The NBA season opens on Tuesday, and TheSportsNotebook.com’s NBA commentary tips off with an overview of each division. We’ll look at the basics of each team’s lineup and how they might fare against their number in the win futures posted in Las Vegas. Today’s focus will be an NBA Atlantic Division preview.
This is a division whose balance of power has changed dramatically–indeed, it’s very personnel has changed dramatically, thanks to the Boston Celtics dealing Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the rival Brooklyn Nets in the offseason. We’ve got three new coaches, including one that will be highly scrutinized–rather than play for the New York Knicks, Jason Kidd has retired and now has the keys to the car in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn: The trio of vets from Boston join a core of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brooke Lopez, a threesome that was already good enough to build a championship team around. Andray Blatche is an excellent rebounder, the kind of role player a really good team needs.
Perhaps the big question is what constitutes success in an environment where expectations are so high? Do they have to dethrone the Miami Heat and reach the NBA Finals? Or is the conference finals good enough? It can’t be less than that, given that this kind of money hasn’t been spent to lose to Indiana in the second round. On the flip side, the new players are older and the current case lost a first-round Game 7 at home to a Chicago Bulls team that was basically playing its second string.
Las Vegas posts the win expectation at 52. That sounds about right, as I think the Nets are for real as a contender. But if you ask me to pick–and while you didn’t ask, the rules of this site are that I have to–I go Under. The reason is that it would be irresponsible to push Pierce, Garnett, Terry, and even Williams, to hard in the regular season. You want some gas in the tank for the playoffs. I can’t see this Nets team pushing for much higher than 52, and think it likely they settle for 48-50 wins and good health come late April.
New York: The long knives of the media are sharpening for Carmelo Anthony and his inability to ever take a team to the NBA Finals, much less win a title. The second-round loss to Indiana last year, while not surprising, was a disappointment given that Anthony was the best player on the floor and the Knicks had homecourt advantage.
Things aren’t getting better anytime soon. Raymond Felton can push the pace at point guard, but the support for Melo at other spots include Pablo Prigioni, Iman Shumpert and a 33-year-old Metta World Peace. In the meantime, Tyson Chandler is aging at center. If head coach Mike Woodson can figure out a way for Andrea Bargnani to ease the scoring load on Melo and to put together a cohesive team defense, the Knicks could survive the Nets and win the Atlantic. But more than that is tough to imagine.
Las Vegas expectations have New York at 49.5. There is absolutely no way I would bet this team to win 50 games, so I’m going Under.
Toronto: There’s relative optimism surrounding the Raptors, with a win prop of 36. They added Rudy Gay last season and shipped Bargnani off to New York. At the end of last season, I remember feeling like Toronto might be turning the corner, but as I review the personnel now, I wonder why. Kyle Lowry at the point is the only other notable player and he was shipped out of Houston make room for Jeremy Lin. I just don’t like this team and go Under.
Boston: Rebuilding is in the air at Boston Garden, but stop for a second and consider the players that are still with the Celtics, rather than the ones they traded away–Rajon Rondo still runs the show, even as we wait to find out when he’ll be back from his torn ACL. Avery Bradley is a good defender and midrange shooter at the two-guard. Jeff Green has explosive talent at small forward, even if he’s inconsistent.
Brandon Bass started at power forward for a team that reached the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals and almost upset Miami. Gerald Wallace and Jordan Crawford are decent role players who can kick in some points.
Get the point? The cupboard isn’t bare in Boston. There are three big question marks, which are Rondo’s knee, and the abilities of rookie center Kelly Olynyk and first-year head coach Brad Stevens. All of those are significant and a good reason for caution when it comes to expectations. But Las Vegas has given the Celts a number of 28. Yeah, I’ll take this team to at least win 30 games. Go Over.
Philadelphia: The 76ers have been dysfunctional in recent years, so they went to the organization that’s the model of functionality–the San Antonio Spurs–and tapped assistant Brett Brown to be their new head coach. Brown’s first draft pick was one I really like, Michael Carter-Williams, a 6’6″ point guard out of Syracuse. Carter-Williams has great size and floor vision, and he was an assist machine in helping Syracuse reach the 2013 Final Four.
Philly is also in major rebuilding mode, relying on Evan Turner to continue to improve and Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young to be adequate down low. This is another team that I don’t expect big things ,but the win future is posted at 16.5! You mean to tell me I can bet this team to go 17-65 and still cash an Over. Sure, no problem.
TheSportsNotebook will have previews of the other divisions coming up over the next week and a half, and then we’ll tie them all together right before the October 29 opener with some final overall predictions.