NBA Preview: Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions

Earlier today, OBB published our 30-team NBA projection for the upcoming season, featuring over/under picks and forecasted records for every team in the league. Well, now that we have the pesky regular season out of the way, it’s time to delve into the Eastern Conference playoffs and see how we think things may shake out. Let’s jump right in with the eight teams OBB has making the playoffs in the East:

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers, 60-22
  2. Chicago Bulls, 57-25
  3. Toronto Raptors, 49-33
  4. Washington Wizards, 47-35
  5. Atlanta Hawks, 46-36
  6. Charlotte Hornets, 46-36
  7. Miami Heat, 44-38
  8. Brooklyn Nets, 43-39

No major surprises there, really. The two teams that I think could make a playoff push are the Pistons and the Knicks. For me, the Pistons are more likely, even though I picked the Knicks to finish with a better record. I just think that a team coached by Stan Van and with Andre Drummond on it is a better bet than whatever the hell is going on at MSG this year. The Knicks are a lock to be a bottom ten defense, and I have them projected in bottom five. That does not bode well for playoff chances.

On to the first round match-ups:

1. Cleveland vs. 8. Brooklyn
Well, uh, I don’t much to say about this.
Cleveland in 4.

2. Chicago vs. 7. Miami
This is a match-up with some intrigue, as Coach Spo and Coach Thibs know each other well at this point, and there is some genuine dislike between the two teams. Miami has playoff chops, but they aren’t especially deep. Good subplots here because Dwyane Wade is from Chicago and Luol Deng played there for so long.

In the end, Chicago is too deep, too savvy and too physical. I just don’t see a way the Heat get out of this one.
Chicago in 5. 

3. Toronto vs. 6. Charlotte
Now we’re getting into the really fun stuff! My favorite time of year in the NBA is the first round match-ups! So many weird series going on that feature mini-battles that are intriguing to NBA nerds. These are two teams that project to be very good defensively and that have a weird craziness to them. The Raptors were the secret tough guys of the NBA last year, and Charlotte is owned by Michael Jordan and now has Lance Stephenson. I would watch every minute of this series just to see how Lowry and Lance tried to get in each others’ heads. I love it.

Down to the X’s and O’s, Toronto would need Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson to play very well on the inside in this series. Charlotte would need Kemba to hold his own against Lowry, but they do have MKG and Lance to lock down Terence Ross and DeMar DeRozan, which is a nice luxury to have.

The big question mark for me in this series is shooting. Can Charlotte convert the triples? Marvin Williams, Lance and the bench guards (Gary Neal, Gerald Henderson, Brian Roberts, Jeffrey Taylor) need to shoot the long ball well in this match-up. I’m just not confident that they would be effective enough against a strong, deep Toronto team with a crazy intense home crowd.
Toronto in 6. 

4. Washington vs. 5. Atlanta

Another high-intrigue series for me. I LOVE this Hawks team. Al Horford and Paul Millsap are both on my All-Undervalued team going into this season without a doubt. Jeff Teague actually is an honorable mention for that squad, as well. I’m wild about Budenholzer as a coach, and I think that this roster fits his style really well. I mean, come on, Kyle Korver in a Spurs-based system? Ideal.

With Horford, the Hawks project to be a top-10 defense in 2014-15. The Wizards already accomplished that feat a year ago, but lost Trevor Ariza, their best wing defender. Paul Pierce can still defend to some extent, but not the way Ariza did.

John Wall can take over a series, though, and Bradley Beal is a player that I am just waiting to explode in a big playoff game. I love Gortat and Nene, and the general toughness of this Wizards team. This is the hardest series for me to call.

The coaching in Washington really bothers me, though. I think that Washington’s ceiling is higher than Atlanta’s, but that Atlanta is more likely to play above themselves while Washington lacks key direction and has it’s weaknesses exposed more readily. I’m going Atlanta here.
Atlanta in 7. 

1. Cleveland vs. 5. Atlanta

This is the match-up the Cavs should want, really. Nothing here really threatens them outside of Horford down low, and that’s not enough to swing this far enough in the Hawks favor. Atlanta won’t be able to bully the Cavs the way the Wizards potentially could, and that’s the one thing I would be worried about for Cleveland: they don’t have playoff chops, so composure will be essential.

Cleveland will be too fast and with too much range for this to be much of a series. Barring a Millsap or Teague hero game, I see this one being over fairly quickly as well.
Cavs in 5. 

2. Chicago vs. 3. Toronto

If Toronto can hang on to their attitude from a year ago and stay tough, this is going to be a very interesting series. Kyle Lowry will LOVE going against Derrick Rose on a big stage. He lives for that kind of competition. Jonas Valanciunas will get the biggest test of his career, and Amir Johnson and Taj Gibson are incredibly similar and both just all around great to watch.

Chicago has all the star power here, though. The match-ups line up well for the Bulls, and while these rosters are constructed similarly, it’s like Toronto has A- and B- players to Chicago’s A and B players. Dwayne Casey has become a coach I really like, but Thibs is a level above as well.

The one argument that trips me up a little bit here? Thibs minutes philosophy in the regular season. He shouldn’t be playing all his best guys 35+ minutes for 82 games, but he probably will. I love his competitive nature, but look at what the Spurs are doing, and do more things like that. That’s just a basic NBA rule: Emulate the Spurs whenever possible. The Bulls are at risk to be rundown and tired early in the playoffs if Thibodeau keeps up his shenanigans this year.

The talent is clearly here, though, and they should take down Toronto in a fun series that is closer than some think.
Chicago in 6. 

1. Cleveland vs. 2. Chicago

Ah, finally. This is what everyone is predicting, isn’t it? There’s really not much way around it if all teams remain healthy, unless the Wizards really gel, Bradley Beal takes a crazy leap and Randy Whitman goes missing around game 45 of the regular season.

Chicago is tough, seasoned, well-coached, motivated and deep. They will abuse you and make every possession difficult. They will play the game the right way, and if Derrick Rose is the player we know he can be, they could be the best team in the entire NBA.

Cleveland is an offensive juggernaut. David Blatt has the perfect personnel for his style here, and LeBron and Love are a dream pairing that happens to get Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters as complimentary pieces. This team will be ridiculous.

This series lines up as a all-timer, but I’m predicting some serious sloppiness here. This is where the Cavs composure element really comes into play, and if they falter for a few minutes in one game, it could swing the whole series. Luckily, LeBron is one of the sport’s ultimate leaders, and Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving have played in big games for Team U.S.A. despite having no playoff experience. That helps (a little).

Logic tells me to pick the Bulls. It says that defense is a safer bet than offense here, and that experience matters and makes up for the talent differential.

But in the end, I see this Cavs team as the team with the best player in the series. People can talk all they want about how it took the Heat a year to gel and come into their own, but LeBron now is a different guy than LeBron then. He has become a leader and is able to unite people in a way that makes him even more special than before. I don’t think this Cavs team is like the Miami Heat teams. I don’t think they will be as unique, as innovative. But I think they’ll be better.

Cavs in 7. 

NBA Over/Unders and Projected Records – All 30 Teams

So much has changed since I started doing the Division previews and going through over/unders team by team that I have pretty much decided that I need to scrap that project and just do one massive, up to date posting here. There’s no way around it – injuries, preseason performances and things coaches have said (I’m looking at you, Byron) have influenced the lines and moved things too drastically for me to act like projections from two weeks ago still hold true. The season hasn’t started yet, so I’m calling a mulligan. Everything I said about the teams in my previews holds true – I just have altered my projections and the lines have moved as well.

For this project I’m using lines from, just to be clear.

Atlantic Division:
Toronto Raptors – 49-33, OVER 48 (-115)

Brooklyn Nets – 43-39, OVER 42 (-115)
New York Knicks – 37-45, UNDER 41 (-115)
Boston Celtics – 25-57, UNDER 27 (-110)
Philadelphia 76ers – 14-68, UNDER 15.5 (-115)

Central Division:
Cleveland Cavaliers – 60-22, OVER 58.5 (-115)

Chicago Bulls – 57-25, OVER 55.5 (-115)
Detroit Pistons – 35-47, UNDER 36 (-110)
Indiana Pacers – 30-52, UNDER 33.5 (-115)
Milwaukee Bucks – 24-58, UNDER 24.5 (-115)

Southeast Division:
Washington Wizards – 47-35, UNDER 47.5 (-115)

Atlanta Hawks – 46-36, OVER 42 (-115)
Charlotte Hornets – 46-36, OVER 44.5 (-115)
Miami Heat – 44-38, UNDER 44.5 (EVEN)
Orlando Magic – 22-60, UNDER 27.5 (-125)

Southwest Division:
San Antonio Spurs – 60-22, OVER 57.5 (-115)
Dallas Mavericks – 54-28, OVER 50.5 (-120)
Houston Rockets – 52-30, OVER 49.5 (-110)
Memphis Grizzlies – 50-32, OVER 48.5 (-120)
New Orleans Pelicans – 37-45, UNDER 43.5 (-115)

Northwest Division:
Oklahoma City Thunder – 55-27, OVER 53.5 (-115)
Portland Trailblazers – 49-33, UNDER 50 (EVEN)
Denver Nuggets – 41-41, UNDER 42.5 (-115)
Minnesota Timberwolves – 26-56, UNDER 27.5 (EVEN)
Utah Jazz – 22-60, UNDER 26.5 (-115)

Pacific Division:
Los Angeles Clippers – 57-25, OVER 56.5 (-115)
Golden State Warriors – 53-29, OVER 51.5 (-120)
Phoenix Suns – 42-40, UNDER 44 (-110)
Sacramento Kings – 27-55, UNDER 30.5 (-115)
Los Angeles Lakers – 26-56, UNDER 30.5 (-115)

Some teams that Oddball Baskets really likes going into the season: The Hornets, the Hawks, the Warriors, the Mavericks, and obviously the Spurs.

Some teams Oddball Baskets isn’t as crazy about going into the season: The Pelicans (messy on the perimeter), the Heat (no depth), the Lakers and Knicks (NO defense) and the Magic (raw, pieces don’t fit in a way that will produce wins immediately).

We will be following up with Eastern and Western Conference playoff previews and predictions, and an NBA Finals prediction piece as well. Enjoy!

Over/Unders: Southwest Division

The champs are here! As we continue our exploration of NBA over/unders and projected records for all 30 NBA teams, we have arrived upon the best division in basketball. The Southwest features four teams that made the playoffs last season, while the fifth team has Anthony Davis, the most electrifying young player in the game. This division is STACKED. Let’s get into it.

San Antonio Spurs, 56.5 – OVER, 60-22
56.5 is such a laughably low number for this team. They won 62 games last year, 58 in 2012 and went 50-16 in the lockout shortened season of 2011. The only possible argument here is that they’ve gotten a year older, except every time that anyone has used that argument, the Spurs have made an adjustment and finessed their way back to the top.

There is no professional sports franchise that I respect more than the Spurs. The way that they think creatively about the game and seek out the best talent no matter the barriers has shown us a new world in terms of what an NBA team can do. They seem to have a pipeline of international talent that compliments their absurd ability to pluck just about any player off the NBA’s scrap heap, brush the dust off and have them hitting clutch threes in the playoffs four months later. It’s just incredible.

I could write 3,000 words about the Spurs. The respect I have for Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Greg Popovich, R.C. Buford, and virtually everyone else who allows them to be this fun, creative juggernaut that I look forward to seeing every year. This year, they take the floor with Becky Hammon as an assistant coach, the first full-time female assistant coach in NBA history. Do I think they care about that distinction? Not at all. I think they probably think the other 29 NBA teams are stupid for under valuing Hammon’s potential contribution, though.

Preseason is a world where you have to evaluate all the potential branches of the season, and, if you run a blog like this one, analyze where the most potential branches may lead. The Western Conference is very, very tough – the Thunder and Clippers are sure to be excellent again, and there are literally five other teams that could contend for a title if things break their way in the West. But no matter how I slice it, I see the Spurs as the favorite to win the Western Conference in 2014-15.

Houston Rockets, 49.5 – OVER, 54-28
The Rockets had what some people would call a disastrous offseason, but those people are overreacting. Let’s look at what really happened here – they whiffed on Chris Bosh, a move that would have catapulted them into the top tier of title discussion, they allowed Chandler Parsons to walk, they jettisoned Omer Asik (who was basically not on their team last year anyway) and Jeremy Lin. In turn, they signed Trevor Ariza, who fills in a solid amount of Chandler Parsons offensive production while providing signfiicantly better defense, and cleared playing time for Isaiah Canaan.

Personally, I like those trade-offs. The Rockets had zero perimeter defense last season, and Ariza improves that at least slightly. If they have a starting five with Patrick Beverly, James Harden, Ariza, Terence Jones and Dwight Howard? That’s not a terrible defensive unit at all. It would be nice if James Harden cared at least .01% on defense, but he’s one of the best five offensive players in the league, so it’s actually forgivable if he asks the other guys to make up for his mistakes, really.

At the end of the day, my pick on this team is based on their talent. I have concerns about McHale as a coach, but Howard and Harden are elite, and that means something in this league. I hated what they both said about being the “only two players who mattered” on the team in spirit, but there’s some truth in the sentiment as well. Chandler Parsons was a very good player the past few seasons, but he wasn’t irreplaceable by any stretch of the imagination. I think this team continues to improve and is tough to beat yet again.

Memphis Grizzlies, 48.5 – OVER, 52-30
This division is freakin’ ridiculous. Memphis is so undervalued at 48.5 I don’t even know where to begin. In fact, I’m seriously worried I’m undervaluing them at 52! If the mid and bottom-tier Western conference teams aren’t as competitive as I think they will be, then the Grizz will blow this number away. Think about this – they won 50 games last year with Marc Gasol missing significant time, Quincy Pondexter missing basically the whole season, and while playing for the first year under a new coach who was clearly getting his footing the first two months. Oh, and they signed Vince Carter, who is one of my favorite role players in the league after his most recent reinvention.

This team is going to be very, very good. Mike Conley is one of the best two-way point guards in the league, and the addition of Jordan Adams to learn under Tony Allen actually makes a lot of sense. If Pondexter and Carter have good shooting seasons, then watch out. They will grit’n’grind their way into almost every game.

Dallas Mavericks, 49.5 – OVER, 50-32
I pick the over and still feel like I’m being disrespectful to Dirk and Rick Carlisle. Hell, even Monta. This team is also going to be very good. How is this one division?

The reason I’m lower on this team than I am on Houston or Memphis is an issue of depth and defense. I don’t see any of these three teams being deep enough to be a title contender, but Dallas has a mismatched bench squad full of guys who have never been good enough to get real NBA minutes before and guys who are well past the point of where they should get any real NBA minutes again.

That I could live with, because this starting unit is so strong, but the defense to me is unforgivable. The major improvement they made, slotting Tyson Chandler in at center, doesn’t actually impress me all that much. Chandler is not the player he was when he anchored Dallas’ championship defense, and honestly, it would probably take a player like that just to get this unit to league average in that category.

Last season they went with the strategy of just trying to outscore everybody – and it worked! They won 49 games! I see them improving on that mark but only slightly, as their main concern was only addressed to an extent.

New Orleans Pelicans, 41.5 – UNDER, 37-45
This was one of the easiest calls for me. This Pelicans team has talent, but I don’t see that talent fitting together well enough to win more than half of their games yet. Plus, Monty Williams is near the bottom of my NBA coach rankings, and I don’t see him finding a way to make this group gel.

But, on to the fun part: This team is going to be crazy to watch!!! Anthony Davis is now paired with Omer Asik, a rim-protecting, paint-patrolling center. This will allow Davis to go full-on nutso gadget arms all over the court on defense. They also should get Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson back. Having Anderson will open up all kinds of space on the floor, allowing them to run ~50 Holiday-Davis pick and rolls a game, which is obviously the ideal scenario for this team and every fan anywhere.

I’m excited about this team. I think they could be really, REALLY good in a few years, and that they have the right idea with a Davis-Asik-Holiday core. Even Tyreke Evans might work in there (and he’ll have to, since they signed him for like, literally ever). The piece that is really gumming things up right now, besides Monty, is Eric Gordon. His massive contract coupled with the fact that he is basically always injured puts a huge drain on their cap sheet and immediate opportunities. Hopefully they will sort it out while they have this core in place, because that would be something really cool to see.

Southeast Division Preview

Much like the Central Division that we previewed on Thursday, the Southeast Division starts 2014-15 with a drastically altered landscape. Falling on the other side of the massive power shift that LeBron’s free agency created, the Southeast has still quietly set itself up to be one of the most competitive in the NBA this season. The division features four teams that are looking to make a playoff push, and that I think should be favored to do so.

So how will this division shake out? Let’s take a look at where these five teams stand going into the season, and where we think they will end up.

Washington Wizards – 47-35
The Bradley Beal injury just effs this team up enough to drop them out of my #3 spot in the Eastern Conference. Damn, I was really excited to see this team really get it together this year with Beal, John Wall, Gortat and Paul Pierce, who has looked crafty as ever early in the preseason. Pour one out for the Wizards man, and toss one of their wins over to the Raptors and one over to the Cavs. All other Southeast teams projections remain unchanged for me.

The Wizards are rolling into the season with the most momentum I can ever remember this franchise having. John Wall morphed into a bonafide star last season, and Bradley Beal has shown tremendous potential in his young career. They took a surprise trip to the second round of the playoffs last year, and parlayed that success into free agency by landing Paul Pierce to fill the whole left by Trevor Ariza’s departure. They were also able to re-sign Marcin Gortat, who was a major factor last season as well.

Their front court is surprisingly deep and experienced, featuring DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries as new additions alongside Nene and Gortat. Beyond that quartet, they still have Drew Gooden and Kevin Seraphin. Backing up Pierce, they have Martell Webster and Otto Porter, Jr. They even still have Andre Miller behind John Wall, a savvy vet who has seen about all the NBA has to offer in his career – except for a truly deep playoff run.

Basically, Washington has a lot to be excited about. They should win this division, and the future is bright here. The only downside? Their coach is just not very good, and they just extended him because of last year’s unexpected playoff success. I’m all for rewarding results, but I just can’t help but wonder what this team would look like with a top tier coach..

Miami Heat – 44-38
Look, nobody believes that Dwyane Wade will be “Flash” again now that LeBron is gone. He’s obviously not the player he was at his peak, but he is still a player who can have a major impact on a game, especially in short bursts with his scoring ability. He had his most efficient regular season ever last year, albeit in only 54 games out of the 82 game schedule.

The reason for that efficiency is his coach, Eric Spoelstra, who I would honestly put in the top five in the league. The fact that he gained notoriety while coaching the self-proclaimed Heatles over the past four years definitely hurt Coach Spo’s street cred with the average fan, but he helped create one of the most exciting and innovative offenses ever in Miami, all whil emaintaining a strong and successful defensive identity.

Chris Bosh also has a lot to prove this year. This is a guy who is still one of the best players in the league, but hasn’t been an alpha dog in five years now. He will have to reclaim that role for the Heat this season to open up opportunities for Wade and set the pace for this team.

The supporting cast here, headlined by Luol Deng, Mario Chalmers and Josh McRoberts, is battle tested and should work together well. This team can still pace and space the Spoelstra way, and if they do so, this should be another successful year in South Beach.

Just don’t expect a fifth straight trip to the Finals.

OBB is very high on these Hawks.

Atlanta Hawks – 46-36
These Southeast teams get no respect. Does anyone know how good Al Horford and Paul Millsap are? Did no one watch Jeff Teague in the playoffs last year? Do people realize that Mike Budenholzer was Greg Popavich’s right hand man for many years?

Whatever. I think these Hawks are going to be thrilling and very, very good. They are deep and feature a glut of long distance shooters, a commodity that this blog values very highly. They should kill the over on their odds with ease.

I can’t wait to watch this team, and think they will have a great year. I believe in you, Al.

Charlotte Hornets –  46-36
Another team featuring a big guy named Al at center, huh? The Hornets are another team that, like the Wizards, is riding all sorts of momentum that is brand new for the franchise. Last year’s playoff appearance and the signing of Lance Stephenson, along with the return to the beloved Hornets moniker, has excited fans all over. They feature a very good coach in Steve Clifford, who turned this team into an excellent defensive unit a year ago.

However the two downsides I see with this team are depth and spacing. Jefferson and Stephenson are rare offensive talents that can somehow score without proper spacing, but that oddly enough doesn’t bode well for units that feature both of them. They have a lack of true three-point shooting threats, and the trio of Bismack Biyombo, Cody Zeller and Marvin Williams will be expected to fill major minutes in the frontcourt. On the guard side, Brian Roberts and Gary Neal will probably have to see some real minutes, which doesn’t exactly encourage confidence either.

I see this team ending up right around 43-45 wins, but will give them the high end of that in this projection, because teams that defend well are generally a good bet to outperform your median expectations.

Oddball Baskets likes all three of these guys, but doesn’t see how they get the Magic above 28 wins this season…

Orlando Magic – 23-59
I don’t really see what the Magic are going for, here. Well, I do, but I don’t like it a whole heck of a lot. The athleticism of a Aaron Gordon-Victor Oladipo core is intriguing, and Nik Vucevic is a nice player at a great value in Orlando. Elfrid Payton is someone that a lot of very smart scouts think very highly of, so I’m on board with that pick as well. I just don’t see how the pieces fit together when they are so young and inexperienced.

It reminds me of their trio of Mo Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and Tobias Harris – three players that I actually like a lot, but who should never all be on one team together. It’s hard to know how good any of those three could be when all three are on the same roster, competing for the same limited number of minutes.

The Channing Frye signing further confused me. I love him as a player, but I have trouble understanding why the Magic valued him as highly as a contending team would. He fits much better on a roster like Houston, Dallas, Oklahoma City or the LA Clippers, in my opinion, where his impact would create space for players that actually know how to use it.

Basically, I feel the same way about this Orlando Magic team that a lot of people feel about the Sacramento Kings.

That being said, there is value in allowing players to develop. I just think that there aren’t a lot of wins involved in that, and it will probably cost the Magic any chance of a successful season this year. It will also likely cost Jacque Vaughn his job.

Over/Unders: Central Division

We are in the final countdown to the 2014-15 NBA season, and it’s time to start some forecasting and projections. With over/unders out for all 30 NBA teams, Oddball Baskets is preparing you for the NBA season with a division-by-division breakdown of every team, including projected records. Yesterday, we previewed the Atlantic Division. Today, we check out the Central Division.

Cleveland Cavaliers, 58.5 – OVER, 60-22
Matt Moore, over at the Eye on Basketball Blog at CBS Sports, says that he sees this as a big time price-up due to the huge interest and fascination with this new super team. He’s probably right about that, but I still think that they are a very smart bet to surpass 58 wins. When it all comes down to it, this division, and ultimately this league, centers around LeBron James and his massive gravitational pull.

This roster is crazy talented, and despite some defensive limitations, they will make an immediate mark on the league. A starting line up of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao is going to be a juggernaut offensively, creating all sorts of space for these very talented players to operate within. David Blatt is a very, very smart coach, especially offensively, and I can’t wait to watch this team on that side of the ball. It should be electrifying.

There are bound to be challenges. That’s inevitable whenever a “super team” forms. But LeBron turned into one of the league’s best leaders during his time in Miami, showing a maturity and ability to unite teammates that was lacking earlier in his career. The way that he has evolved as a player is incredible, but the way he has grown as a person from 2010 to now might be the key to helping this team gel as quickly as possible.

Chicago Bulls, 55.5 – OVER, 57-25
I am not as crazy about this Bulls team as everyone else is. I find them fascinating, and I like everyone involved well enough. Tom Thibodeau is objectively a great coach, Derrick Rose is one of the easiest players to route for, Pau Gasol is finally free from Laker purgatory, and Joakim Noah plays some of the most fun, energetic basketball in the world. I mean come on, Nikola Mirotic is going to be VERY interesting to watch this season, too!

But I have a fundamental disagreement with Thibodeau’s coaching style over one major issue: minutes. He has run his best players into the ground, and I seriously don’t believe that the way he coaches is conducive to long term sustained success, especially in the playoffs. Of course, that coaching style should be something that helps this team win more regular season games, so I love the over here.

Thibs lack of concern for rest almost guarantees a pile up of regular season victories, and if Rose is even somewhat his old self then this team should easily hit 56 wins. I don’t see this team as a true title contender, not until I watch Rose and Pau perform at a high level again in real NBA games, and not until Nikola Mirotic proves he is for real. Most of all, though, until Thibs can guide a team to the Finals, I will continue to believe that his coaching style is antithetical to playoff success in the modern NBA. Just look at the Spurs.

Detroit Pistons, 36.5 – UNDER, 34-48
DEE-TROIT BASKET-BALL! Stan Van is bringing the music back to Motown, and the thought of him coaching another crazy athletic center in Andre Drummond is very exciting.

The problem? When you start digging deeper, this team lacks shooting in a major way. In today’s NBA, the importance of the long range shot looms larger than ever, and the Pistons are largely going to be a non-factor in this area. They ranked 29th in True Shooting % last season, per, and 24th in Effective Field Goal %. The teams at the top of those lists? The Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder. That’s a list I’d say you want to be on, rather than existing on the opposite end of.

Stan Van Gundy did such a great job of setting up Dwight Howard to succeed in Orlando, but key to that was the ability of the other four players on the court to serve as true threats from long distance. Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith and Will Bynum can not provide that for you. This is one of the reasons I shrugged off the Jodie Meeks contract that everybody flipped out about – the Pistons needed shooting, and it’s smart to pay for something if you truly do need it.

If Josh Smith can lay off the jumpers, Greg Monroe can stop pouting and Caron Butler can play like he did in OKC last season, this team has a chance of making the playoffs. They have a better team than last season and a far better coach. However they still built a roster that has a major foundational flaw, and it happens to be exactly what the best teams in the NBA excel at. For that reason, I’m betting the under here and I feel pretty good about it.

Indiana Pacers, 32.5 – UNDER, 30-52
The Pacers are a sad, startling example of how quickly an NBA title window can close. On January 1, 2014, I would have listed them right at the top of the championship contenders and gushed about the potential future of that young, talented, cohesive roster. But things move fast in the NBA, and a midst a sea of rumors, injuries and contract negotiations gone sour, the Pacers window has slammed shut, at least for now.

This team has some real talent ready to suit up, though. David West is one of my favorite players in the league, just a true old school power forward who plays the right way and knows how to lead. I am saddest for him out of anyone in the NBA going into this year.

Roy Hibbert is still a transformative defender, and this team should still rank very well in terms of defensive rating. The problem is that they don’t have an offense. In fact, they didn’t have one last year either, but they had two offensive weapons in Paul George and Lance Stephenson that could create offense out of thin air. This year, that is being tasked to George Hill and Rodney Stuckey. Starting to see why I took the under here?

If I’m worried about the Pistons ability to form a structurally sound offensive identity, imagine how I feel about these Pacers. Yuck. Despite David X. West’s presence, I won’t be DVRing many Pacer games this year.

Milwaukee Bucks, 24.5 – UNDER, 20-62
People are totally going to read this and think that I’m being unfair to Milwaukee, but hear me out: this team won 15 games last year! 5 more wins is actually a pretty big jump – the kind that contenders would kill for. I honestly think that 24.5 is way too high for this roster, given the inexperience and challenges at hand.

Besides, is Jason Kidd a very good coach? He had a good turnaround last year in Brooklyn, but that was more based on his use of the personnel at hand than anything involving game strategy. Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston turned that season around – all Kidd did was smartly trust them to do so.

Does he have the same kind of roster in Milwaukee to work with? Well, maybe. A lineup of say, John Henson, Larry Sanders, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Brandon Knight is actually really intriguing. Length and athleticism abound there.

But will Kidd go that route in this job? In Brooklyn, the conventional strategies had to fail before Kidd switched things up. Also, the expectations demanded that shake up – losing was unacceptable there. In Milwaukee, it is at least semi-expected for the next year or two. Teams built this way don’t make the playoffs, so there is no immediate pressure. That means a double digit win increase, which would be necessary for them to best the over here, is probably unlikely. Take the under, but keep an eye on this team – they have some talented kids and a bright future.

Over/Unders: Atlantic Division

One of the most exciting days of the year for me is when NBA over/unders come out, finally giving us a benchmark by which we can judge teams compared to each other going into the season. While it is an imperfect benchmark, at least we can start to sort teams into tiers and start figuring out how we see them compared to how others see them. For instance, last season I was very bullish on the Detroit Pistons compared to others, excited by Andre Drummond’s potential and what I thought was an intriguing lineup. As it turns out, the Pistons were largely a disaster outside of Drummond’s production. Score one for consensus thinking.

But then again, just about everyone was wrong about the Suns last season, and nobody thought the Blazers would have the type of success that they did. The Bucks plummeted far further than anyone thought they would, even though that seems like it should have been obvious now.

Over the next six days, we are going to dig into the 2014-15 Over/Unders by division and give Oddball Baskets projected 2014-15 records for all 30 NBA teams, starting on the East Coast in the Atlantic Division.

Toronto Raptors, 49.5 – UNDER, 49-33
Okay, so I’m calling this one as close as it gets. The Raptors finished last season 48-34 after a ridiculously strong second half. Along with division rival and eventual playoff foe Brooklyn, T-Dot was one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference after January 1. Keep in mind that during that same time period, both Miami and Indiana seemed to implode.

They bring back largely the same roster – young, talented, hungry for respect, and led by Kyle Lowry, the pitbull point guard who invigorated the team last year into a tough new identity. DeMar DeRozan has really blossomed into a very good player, and I think he is still somewhat underrated by fans. Jonas Valanciunas should only continue to develop, especially defensively.

However despite all those positives, I still see this team struggling to crack 50 wins. This is a good roster, but not a great one, and despite major improvements, Dwayne Casey still has a lot to prove as a coach. Both the Raptors and Wizards are listed at 49.5, and the Wizards have the bigger star in John Wall, the more experienced supporting cast in Paul Pierce, Marcin Gortat, Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair, and coming off last year’s surprise playoff run and a strong showing in free agency, more momentum. If both teams are healthy and there are no major chemistry issues on either side, I see the Wizards being a better bet to surpass 49.5 this season. And I’m still taking the under on them.

I am worried about this last part coming back to haunt me, as the Raptors thrived in terms of chemistry last year. Either way, I still see them winning this division comfortably and positioning themselves for a postseason run in 2015.

Brooklyn Nets, 41.5 – OVER, 43-39
I was shocked that this number for Brooklyn was so low. True, they struggled mightily for long stretches of last season, and their late season turnaround was largely the work of two players who are no longer here (Shaun Livingston and Paul Pierce), but Lionel Hollins should be at least somewhat of an upgrade as coach, and Brook Lopez returning healthy is a major plus. People forget this, but Brook is possibly the best offensive center in the game.

Joe Johnson, despite catching constant flack for things that have nothing to do with basketball, had a good season last year and will have a good one again this year. Deron Williams in the major question mark here, as his contract begins to look like the worst in basketball due to its size and length. Was he even a top 10 point guard last year? I don’t think so, really.

If Hollins can adapt some new basketball ideas into his coaching, then it will certainly be for the better, but already having him on the sidelines and Lopez on the court should help this team avoid the kind of disastrous start they had last season. I see them slotting into the playoffs for sure.

New York Knicks, 40.5 – UNDER, 35-47
I am about as bearish as anyone on the New York Knicks for this season. Carmelo Anthony gets you 30 wins on his own, so how is my projection so awful for them?

Easy – I hate this roster. Derek Fisher should be a decent head coach, but as we’ve seen with players who make this quick transition, there is likely going to be an adjustment period at the start. This is a team that cannot afford a slow start, given it’s structural limitations. Defense is going to be a gigantic problem for any lineup they roll out, and Jose Calderon is probably their second best player.

If Amar’e can come back strong, as he has said he will, then this could look very stupid very fast. But I just don’t see that as a realistic outcome, given the track record of players who have had a similar injury history. My only hope for this Knicks season is to see lots of Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Cleanthony Early. That would be pretty cool.

Boston Celtics, 26.5 – Under, 26-56
My beloved Celtics enter the season just full of question marks. They still maintain that they are not looking to trade Rajon Rondo, but seriously, nothing else makes sense at this point. This roster doesn’t fit his skill set very well, while plenty of teams around the league do and have a better chance at winning while Rondo is still in his prime. The youth movement in Boston is stuck in limbo because of one polarizing player, who also happened to be one of the best players in the world the last time he played a full healthy season.

That being said, if they do keep Rondo for the full season than my projection is going to look really stupid. A backcourt rotation of Rondo, Avery Bradley, and Marcus Smart is just monstrous defensively. Good luck dealing with that. I’m far less thrilled with the front court, though. Jared Sullinger had a nice season last year, but I still can’t help but see huge limitations for him going forward. I just don’t think his ceiling is much higher than what he showed us last year. Kelly Olynyk is a guy that I like to watch but I just don’t see developing into any sort of a force on either side of the ball. Brandon Bass should have been gone a year ago, and Jeff Green is a nice player but shouldn’t be the most talented offensive player on a real NBA roster.

I see another long season with losses piling up for the Celtics. I’ve tried to see another reality, but it just doesn’t seem possible with this current roster.

Philadelphia 76ers, 15.5 – UNDER 14-68
I feel pretty confident about this one, but it’s really hard to lose more than 66 games in an NBA season. I mean, just really really difficult to do. If Brett Brown was going to play the same exact style as last season, with crazy exaggerated pace, I would peg this team at 11 or 12 wins. But Brown has said they are going to slow it down and focus more on execution than pace. That’s bad news for people who are expecting to see an epic tank job – last year might have been Sam Hinkie’s Mona Lisa in that regard.

Still, though – there is almost zero proven NBA talent on this roster. They have three players on the roster with 5 or more years of NBA experience: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Jason Richardson (RIP) and Keith Bogans. Two of those three players essentially didn’t play last year.

Their best two players are a rookie who sat out last year due to injury and a second year point guard who will probably lead the league in turnovers.

But honestly, I envy anyone who sticks with the Sixers over the next five to ten years. If this core can stick together and grow together, with Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Michael Carter-Williams and Dario Saric, then it’s going to be a hell of a ride.