With the NBA season beginning today, and the Nuggets season beginning Wednesday, the Denver Stiffs staff got their prognosticating caps out and made some predictions.
However, for some of you that may be interested in knowing what we think of each and every team in the league, more words are required. Ryan Blackburn and Daniel Lewis took some time to make predictions of their own, taking the over or under on each team in the NBA.
You’re reading Part One, where we list our predictions for the Eastern Conference. You’ll be able to read Part Two, where we list our predictions for the Western Conference, as soon as it’s published.
Boston Celtics - 59
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): I’m taking the over for the Celtics. They’re such a deep, talented team, and they should be the clear favorite to represent the East in the Finals. While most of the league is desperately searching to find talented wings, the Celtics roll out a team each night with six that could be part of the rotation. Flexible lineups, defense, scoring, coaching — they’re the total package.
Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): I’m taking the over here too. The line is absurdly high, but the Celtics have a top 10 player at every position, a top 5 player if you squint hard enough and do some projection. Their young players should improve, their bench should remain steady, and Brad Stevens may be the Celtics coach, but he’s actually a wizard.
Toronto Raptors - 55.5
Blackburn: If everything works out, this is an easy over pick. Kawhi Leonard at his best is the best player in the NBA next year. Even if he’s not, the Raptors have the strength and depth to remain a top team. Kyle Lowry is still really good. Danny Green, Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valanciunas are solid veterans. OG Anunoby, Padcal Siakam, and Delon Wright are still improving. If everything clicks, this team may win 60+ games, let alone 56.
Philadelphia 76ers - 54.5
Lewis: I’m taking the under for Philadelphia, but I have them at 54 wins. I think Vegas really nailed that pick. Much like the Raptors, they’re path to success starts on defense. With Embiid and Simmons, they have two elite defenders at center and ... uh, point guard? The reasons I don’t have them going over 54.5 wins are health and offense. They’ll need someone on the bench to score during the regular season, and they need to stay healthy. They shouldn’t focus too much on securing home court — it’s more important to be at full strength at the end of the regular season.
Blackburn: I’m with Dan again and taking the under. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are absolute studs, and the rest of the starting lineup forms one of the best five-man pairings in the NBA. Despite that, the bench is still a work in progress. Can Wilson Chandler and Markelle Fultz fill the void left by Marc Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova? Their 15-game win streak to end the season was nice, but 12 wins came against non-playoff teams. Under is the safe pick here, given the strength of Boston and Toronto.
Brooklyn Nets - 32
Blackburn: I’m all over the over here. The name of the game with the Brooklyn Nets is depth. With two quality rotation players at every position, I think Brooklyn will feast on the bottom of the East and steal some games from playoff teams that struggle defensively. I have them pegged at 34 wins, but it could be more.
Lewis: Give me the over, but just by one game for the Nets. They’re a well-coached squad, and I’m expecting more progress this season. Jarrett Allen showed potential, and they have Ed Davis waiting on the bench if Allen struggles. They’ll score a lot of points, and give up a lot too, but their games should be crazy and entertaining. A fun league pass team if you’re not able to watch late games.
New York Knicks - 28.5
Lewis: This is a team that is rumored to be in the Jimmy Butler trade discussions, but honestly, even if they got him, I’d still take under 28.5 wins pretty comfortably. They’re the next team to experiment with Emmanuel Mudiay as a backup point guard, and they’re going to give Trey Burke a chance to run the team. Kristaps will definitely miss 40 games, and honestly, shouldn’t be worried about coming back soon. This is a team that needs Cam Reddish — that’s their season goal.
Blackburn: Under hard. The Knicks have gone under nearly every season this decade, and playing their two rookies Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson heavy minutes won’t change that. With Porzingis out for significant time and just an overall talent deficit, it’s hard to see this team winning 29 games or more.
Indiana Pacers - 48
Blackburn: I have the Pacers at 50 wins and the 4 seed, so I’m going over. Adding Tyreke Evans to what is basically an untouched roster is a massive upgrade. Evans will fill the gap left by Lance Stephenson as the primary bench ball handler, but he’ll actually be good. Another year of development for Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, and this team could be much better than people realize come playoff time.
Lewis: My sleeper pick for one of the spots in the Eastern Conference Finals, I’m taking the over here and crossing my fingers they get to 49 wins. Victor Oladipo has finally realized the potential he had as the former No. 2 pick, making an All-Star game last season. They’re just such a solid team, having added Tyreke Evans and Doug McDermott to their roster for another playoff run. They have great depth, have a relentless offense, and are going to hammer teams every night.
Milwaukee Bucks - 47.5
Lewis: The addition of Brook Lopez should really help the Bucks, who should be really excited to add one of the most underrated players in the league. They really need Coach Bud to figure out how to put a good offense together, because if Eric Bledsoe isn’t good this season, they could really struggle to figure out how to execute late in games. They do have one of the best players in the league in Giannis Antetokounmpo, but that’s not enough to persuade me to take the under. They’ll be too inconsistent because of their depth and floor spacing.
Blackburn: This is a tough line, but I’m going over. Last season, the Bucks dealt with head coaching trauma, and there was no reason that, given the talent they have, the Bucks were a subpar defensive team. As Dan said, Budenholzer should help fix some of these issues, and the team should have improved chemistry between their top three players in Bledsoe, Middleton, and Giannis.
Detroit Pistons - 38
Blackburn: The Pistons are in line for a spectacularly unspectacular season, but that doesn’t mean they can’t hit the over. The Blake Griffin-Andre Drummond tandem is flawed, but it should be better this season. Reggie Bullock is one of the best floor spacers in the NBA, and he should play more minutes this year. Add the development of Stanley Johnson and Luke Kennard, and I think the Pistons hit 40 wins on the dot.
Lewis: Say hello to the Eastern Conference 8-seed, checking in at 40 wins for me. While that may seem surprising, I do think that the presence of Blake Griffin should help stabilize their offense this season (especially in the East). I think Luke Kennard should be better this season, and they’ll really need his floor spacing alongside Reggie Bullock. If Kennard can be a positive, they’ll come close to a .500 record. If not, they’ll certainly be below 38 wins.
Cleveland Cavaliers - 30.5
Blackburn: This is an under as well. The good teams have separated themselves in the East, and there’s a defined middle tier as well. Without LeBron James, the Cavaliers find themselves at the bottom of the barrel. Kevin Love will probably be a 20 points per game scorer again, but it’s hard to find the talent around him for the Cavs to be good on either end. George Hill is good. Collin Sexton may eventually be good, but not this year. The Cavs are likely to start Cedi Osman at small forward as well, and while he’s talented, it should tell fans all they need to know about expectations this year.
Lewis: I like the Cavs, but mostly because of the amount of chaos that team is going to bring each night. Collin Sexton will have a good season — not Donovan Mitchell good, but not bad — and with Kevin Love, they’ll be a nice pairing for Cleveland. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them trade George Hill before the deadline. His contract isn’t fully guaranteed next season, and he doesn’t make as big of an impact on this team as he would a contender.
Chicago Bulls - 30
Lewis: Ryan and I have the Bulls at the same record. He and I share concerns about the defense, which isn’t surprising, with the only player that is a plus on that end being Kris Dunn. I do they they’ll be a team that tries to compete the whole season, which scares me a little, but not enough to raise their projected record.
Blackburn: This is an under for me, though I have the Bulls at 29 wins. Last season, Lauri Markannen operated as the first option, and he performed as well as could be expected. This season, he will compete for touches with Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker, two talented but offense only-players. It’s tough to say how Chicago’s offense will react, but it certainly won’t be good enough to mask what’s almost guaranteed to be a bottom three defense in the league.
Washington Wizards - 44.5
Lewis: I went under for the Wizards. Look, our nation’s capital isn’t exactly known for productivity and success. With John Wall looking more like Brian Urlacher than his usual All-Star self, and the addition of Dwight Howard to a locker room that already has the aforementioned Wall and Markieff Morris, things could be dramatic all season. They have the talent to be an All-Star team, but I’d be looking to rebuild around Bradley Beal and trade everyone else if they can’t make the playoffs.
Blackburn: I have Washington at 45 wins, so it’s a close over for me. It’s hard to see them winning much more than that, but they have a baseline of talent that I think pushes them over this line. John Wall missed 41 games last season. Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are All-Star caliber. Dwight Howard, while no longer All-Star caliber in the slightest, SHOULD be an upgrade over Marcin Gortat. Austin Rivers is also solid, contrary to the narrative surrounding him. If the Wizards steal enough games from the top five teams, they should go over this line.
Miami Heat - 41.5
Blackburn: This is a tough one, but I will take the over. It’s hard to see the Heat being a bad team this year, given the number of easy games they will play against the Eastern Conference. If they get Jimmy Butler, this will go over. If they keep their group together, I still lean over because of their mix of established veteran talent and young talent that can break out.
Lewis: I’ll take the over for the Heat, even with their future uncertain. They play hard for Coach Spoelstra, and they have a deep frontcourt. They’ll defend like crazy, and hound teams during the regular season.
Charlotte Hornets - 35.5
Lewis: I’ll take the over for the Hornets. They have a good group of players, Kemba is going to have a great season, and I love Miles Bridges. They have a new head coach, and they should respond well to that.
Blackburn: I’m going over on the Hornets. Last season, Charlotte played like a 41-win team and got really unlucky in late game scenarios. This season, they don’t have Dwight Howard, but they do have Kemba Walker, what should be an improved Malik Monk, an exciting rookie in Miles Bridges, and newcomer Tony Parker. I don’t see the Hornets trading Walker, and if he’s there the entire year, it’s hard to see a scenario where Charlotte and their group of solid veterans doesn’t crack 36 wins.
Orlando Magic - 31
Blackburn: The Magic are going to be bad again, so I’m going under. Without a starting caliber point guard, the Magic will be relying on heavy defense and the trio of Fournier, Gordon, and Vucevic to score on their own. While the defense will likely be good, I think this offense may be bottom five in the NBA. Combine that with an incentive to develop young talent, and it’s hard to imagine the Magic cracking 31 wins.
Lewis: This is a bad team, and to be honest, it’s surprising that anybody still watches them. Aaron Gordon hunts stats because he knows nobody is actually watching the games, they don’t have a point guard, and they’re in their first season with Steve Clifford. Somehow, this is the team Timofey Mozgov is with currently. That’s right, since he left Denver, he’s played for the Cavaliers, Lakers, Nets, and now, the Magic. He may not play much, seeing how the Magic have ... THREE other centers (Nikola Vucevic, Mo Bamba, and Khem Birch).
Atlanta Hawks - 24
Lewis: Take the under with Atlanta. This is a young team, with a rookie starting point guard and a new head coach. They’re going to be bad on offense and on defense, and they’re going to need to emphasize lessons over losses. If you’re into fantasy basketball, take John Collins - he’s going to get lots of rebounds, dunks, and he’s starting to shoot 3-pointers (why not?) which should be fun to watch.
Blackburn: The Hawks might crack this 24 wins number, but I suspect they will go full development by midseason and let Trae Young shoot as many times as he wants. They have a lot invested in Young, and pairing him with elite talent long term is far more important than winning a few extra games this year. Look for the Hawks to trade Bazemore and Dedmon by the deadline and go full youth movement. I’m taking the under.