Ryan Blackburn and Daniel Lewis are back for the fourth year in a row, picking over and unders for every team in the NBA. Which team will finish with the 1-seed in the conference? Which team is destined for the lottery? Who will be scrapping for the 8-seed?
As is tradition, they’re listing their picks 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. All over/under figures are drawn from The Action Network.
Philadelphia 76ers - 54.5
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): I have Philadelphia at 55-27, so I’m taking the over. I think the Sixers will have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, good enough to win their division but behind the Bucks. I think they’ll have a top-5 defense, with Al Horford and Joel Embiid taking the lead on that end of the court to make them a truly elite team.
Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): I have Philly at 56-26, so over. The Sixers are going to be good. They have too much top end talent and good enough role players to fail. Joel Embiid, though he sits out more games than one might hope, is a legitimate top 10 player, and teams with a top 10 player and multiple top 40 to 50 talents tend to figure it out.
Boston Celtics - 48.5
Blackburn: Boston is a tough one, but I’m going over at 50-32. I doubt this team finishes the season with the same roster as they are starting. They have major holes at power forward and center while relying heavily on Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter, and I expect those holes to fill during the year.
Lewis: Our first disagreement! I’ll take the under for the Celtics. I’m very skeptical that their defense is going to be good enough for them to win 50 games, even in a weak conference. I think Kemba Walker will be a great fit for them, and I expect Jaylen Brown to have a bigger role. But if they’re playing Gordon Hayward at power forward and Enes Kanter at center, they’re going to have a lot of nights where the other team is scoring over 110 points a night against them and they can’t keep up.
Toronto Raptors - 46.5
Lewis: I’m going to go with the over for the Raptors. I think Nick Nurse is one of the best coaches in the NBA, and this will be the season where everyone realizes how much he can elevate a team. The players are going to have to buy into what he’s preaching more this year, because they don’t have that one individual player that can destroy the other team. I think their veterans will stick around, and they’ll get better than expected contributions from OG Anunoby, Norman Powell, and Fred Van Vleet that’ll power them to homecourt in the first round of the playoffs. A top-4 team in the conference all season.
Blackburn: I’m going under on Toronto at 43-39. They have the talent to eclipse the over, but I don’t see all three of Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka on the roster at the end of the year. The Raptors need to rejuvenate themselves with young talent and build a sustainable product around Pascal Siakam.
Brooklyn Nets - 43.5
Blackburn: 45-37 and the over for Brooklyn here. Kyrie Irving is really good, and while they lost a couple of veteran pieces, Irving is an extreme upgrade over D’Angelo Russell. Combine that with an underrated addition of Taurean Prince and I think Brooklyn survives without Kevin Durant.
Lewis: Kevin Durarnt is out for the whole season, right? They’re a team that is using this season to set up for the 2020-21 season, and rightfully so. I think they’ll explore more of Caris LeVert’s game this year, and try to develop Rodions Kurucs and Jarrett Allen into more well-rounded players. I’m taking the under for the Nets.
New York Knicks - 26.5
Lewis: This is an easy call for me, under. They swapped out Emmanuel Mudiay for Dennis Smith Jr., but that won’t help their floor spacing. R.J. Barrett isn’t a special enough player to transform a roster with extremely limited offensive talent. I like Julius Randle, but I wouldn’t want to play him next to Mitchell Robinson. Seriously, teams may play zone against the Knicks and be totally fine with whatever shots get knocked down from the perimeter. This team is a mess.
Blackburn: For the first time ever, I’m predicting a New York Knicks over with a 29-53 record. While they’re still very bad, there’s enough talent to generate some wins against a weak Eastern Conference. Julius Randle is good, and so is Mitchell Robinson. R.J. Barrett’s in for a tough year for he’s talented and better than Kevin Knox.
Milwaukee Bucks - 57.5
Lewis: I am going to take the under for the Bucks. I’ve just been around long enough to know that any team that is going to have to rely on Wes Matthews, Ersan Ilyasova, Kyle Korver, and George Hill at this point in their careers is probably going to underperform expectations. I picked them to finish with 56 wins, and be the 1-seed in the conference. It’s not like I’m low on the Bucks at all. But I do think they’re not going to finish with 58 wins this year.
Blackburn: The Bucks are really good, even without Malcolm Brogdon. I’m going over and 59-23, finishing as the top seed in the East around another MVP-caliber year from Giannis Antetokounmpo. They have a hole to fill in the backcourt, but George Hill and Wesley Matthews are good enough vets for it to matter less.
Indiana Pacers - 46.5
Blackburn: I’m going just barely over at 47-35 because I believe in Indiana’s defensive culture. Domantas Sabonis may be on the trade block, but maybe that means they acquire a starting caliber forward that fits better next to current starting center Myles Turner. Victor Oladipo is out, but Brogdon should ease the loss a bit.
Lewis: I love the Pacers this year. I’m happy to take the over for them this season, even with the reality that Oladipo may be out for over half the season. I think Brogdon is going to be a nice fit for them, allowing them to be really efficient on offense and have really smart possessions. I like how Jeremy Lamb has developed, and I think they’ll be able to play him and Brogdon alongside Oladipo, Sabonis and Turner to close out games at some point. A great, underrated team.
Detroit Pistons - 37.5
Blackburn: Another over, but barely at 38-44. I don’t believe in the Pistons because Tony Snell is their best wing player. Reggie Jackson is shaky enough as it is, but expecting another amazing season from Blake Griffin, including him playing over 2,600 minutes like last season, feels like playing with fire.
Lewis: I picked them to finish with the exact same record as Ryan, 38-44, which puts me in the over camp. Blake Griffin is a superstar that will hopefully bring fans into the arena up in Michigan, and Andre Drummond continues to be a monster around the rim. That being said, if Luke Kennard isn’t going to develop into a player that can have a J.J. Redick type impact on the offense, they’re going to be a much better version of the Knicks.
Chicago Bulls - 32.5
Lewis: This is another team that I’m high on this season, and I’ll take the over here. Their frontcourt of Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., and Thaddeus Young is going to be the best part of the team. That’s a group that is able to excel on both ends of the court, with Markkanen and Porter Jr. stretching the court on offense while Carter Jr. and Young are talented defenders. I think they’re going to love Tomas Satoransky in Chicago too, with his Swiss Army knife style game able to patch a lot of holes that exist because Kris Dunn isn’t that good. Add in Zach LaVine’s offensive ability, and I think they’re going to be able to compete for the 8-seed.
Blackburn: Another over at 35-47, this time for a Chicago Bulls squad that should see substantial improvement with a year of better health, continuity, growth from young players, and the addition of Tomas Satoransky. Zach LaVine could score 25 points per game this year, while Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter are great complementary scorers.
Cleveland Cavaliers - 24.5
Blackburn: The first under in this division at 22-60 is pretty easy. I’m not high on Kevin Love at this stage in his career and don’t think the two point guard formula of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland is going to work. The defense will also be pitifully bad.
Lewis: This may shock several people, but I’m taking the over, and predicting that they’ll finish with 25 wins this year. I like Darius Garland, and I think they’ll be able to figure out how to mix him into the offense with Collin Sexton. I hope that Brandon Knight is able to salvage a portion of his career this season, and I think Kevin Love will play more often than not. I’m just a big fan of their guards - they’re still going to be really bad though.
Miami Heat - 43.5
Blackburn: I’m taking the over, and while I have them at 45-37, they could certainly go higher. Jimmy Butler is a perfect fit with Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo, and the Heat have some ways to improve the team even more. They could acquire another two-way forward or go after Chris Paul. Either way, over.
Lewis: I’m taking the over for the Heat, with them winning the Southeast Division. I am also a fan of the Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow triple threat, and can see them being a really tough out in the playoffs. They’re a team with just such a great identity for the modern NBA, and Erik Spoelstra is a great coach. They’re going to just wear teams out over 48 minutes, and then let Butler deliver the win.
Orlando Magic - 41.5
Blackburn: This team is way better than a 41 or 42 win team. I have them at 46-36 and the over. While the fit isn’t perfect with their tall forwards in Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac, those guys are so versatile and skilled that they make up for it. Isaac is my pick for Most Improved Player, and I think he averages roughly 15 points, 7 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 1.5 blocks. Those are Shawn Marion and Paul Millsap style numbers defensively.
Lewis: I took the over for the Magic, but only predicted them to finish with 42 wins. I’m excited to see Markelle Fultz play in a backup role with the Magic this season, and I liked the signing of Al-Farouq Aminu. Nikola Vucevic is one of the best centers in the Eastern Conference, and they’re going to have a nice defensive group. Ryan being high on Jonathan Isaac is extremely on-brand.
Atlanta Hawks - 33.5
Lewis: I’ll take the over for the Hawks. I don’t think they’re good enough to compete for a playoff spot, but they’ve had two really good offseasons to try to rebuild the franchise after the Al Horford-Paul Millsap era collapsed. Trae Young is a freaking wizard, an incredible passer and an outstanding shooter. I think John Collins is going to have a breakout year, and I think they are going to have an exciting second unit with Evan Turner, Cam Reddish, Jabari Parker, and Damian Jones. They’re going to be a great League Pass team.
Blackburn: Everyone’s high on Trae Young, but I’m going under at 32-50. Atlanta won 29 games last year, but they didn’t do a lot to get better. They added some rookies and Jabari Parker, Evan Turner, and Allen Crabbe, but the players they want to rely on are Young, John Collins, and Kevin Huerter. That’s a recipe for underperforming next season.
Washington Wizards - 26.5
Blackburn: This is a good line, and I have the Wizards at 25-57, so under for me. It looks like Ish Smith, Isaac Bonga, Rui Hachimura, and Thomas Bryant will start next to Bradley Beal, and that’s a recipe for an even larger disaster for the Wizards.
Lewis: I don’t think this needs a lot of analysis. Take the under. Scott Brooks doesn’t have a lot to work with talent-wise, and the roster isn’t any good either. Bradley Beal can talk about loving Washington all he wants — he signed an extension so he could enter free agency as a 10-year veteran, and the second it profits him to leave Washington, he’s gone. It’s actually kind of incredible how much bad luck they’ve had, but that’s what happens to teams like the Wizards.
Charlotte Hornets - 23.5
Lewis: Take the under for the Hornets. This is a bad, bad team, and I picked them to have the worst record in the league. They shouldn’t play any of their veterans starter minutes, barring injury, and should just unleash PJ Washington alongside Miles Bridges and hope they don’t develop any bad habits. Let Malik Monk shoot 25 times a game and see what happens. This is a team hoping for James Wiseman in a bad way.
Blackburn: I’m going under at 21-61 on what could be the worst team in the NBA. They have some competent veterans, more so than the Wizards, but they are relying on Terry Rozier as the top dog. That seems like a match made in hell.