Las Vegas’s Westgate sportsbook released its projections for 2018–19 NBA win totals on Sunday, and the most contentious odds were attached to the most polarizing team. The brand-new Lakers are slated at 48.5 wins, which should spark enough arguments to last us through the lull of August. No one really knows what to make of L.A., but Vegas has now set provisional expectations.
Westgate’s 2018-19 NBA Over/Unders
|Eastern Conference||Western Conference|
|Eastern Conference||Western Conference|
|1. Boston Celtics: 57.5||1. Golden State Warriors: 62.5|
|2. Philadelphia 76ers: 54.5||2. Houston Rockets: 54.5|
|3. Toronto Raptors: 54.5||3. Oklahoma City Thunder: 50.5|
|4. Indiana Pacers: 47.5||4. Los Angeles Lakers: 48.5|
|5. Milwaukee Bucks: 46.5||5. Utah Jazz: 48.5|
|6. Washington Wizards: 44.5||6. Denver Nuggets: 47.5|
|7. Miami Heat: 41.5||7. New Orleans Pelicans: 45.5|
|8. Detroit Pistons: 37.5||8. Minnesota Timberwolves: 44.5|
|9. Charlotte Hornets: 35.5||9. San Antonio Spurs: 43.5|
|10. Brooklyn Nets 32.5||10. Portland Trail Blazers: 41.5|
|11. Orlando Magic: 31.5||11. Los Angeles Clippers: 35.5|
|12. Cleveland Cavaliers: 30.5||12. Dallas Mavericks: 34.5|
|13. New York Knicks: 29.5||13. Memphis Grizzlies: 34.5|
|14. Chicago Bulls: 27.5||14. Phoenix Suns: 28.5|
|15. Atlanta Hawks: 23.5||15. Sacramento Kings: 25.5|
I’m not out on L.A., but I am taking the official under on Magic Johnson’s creation, a roster with 2017–18 Cleveland vibes air-dropped into the Western Conference. (Kevin Love stayed on the chopper.) Wholly reshuffled teams almost always get off to slow starts. Young teams get off to slow starts. The Lakers, somehow, are both. It’s littered with newly acquired, take-me-as-I-am veterans who have no preexisting relationship established with the team’s young core of unproven first-round talents. There are roles that will have to be defined on the fly, and many will have to be agreed upon tacitly. The only player with a clear place in the hierarchy is LeBron James. It seems that that alone is enough for Vegas.
The Lakers’ over/under wasn’t the only prediction that raised eyebrows. Here are five other teams whose projections are worth deeper scrutiny.
Spurs: 43.5 wins
San Antonio might be worse off with DeMar DeRozan instead of Kawhi Leonard in the grand scheme of things, but not if we’re talking win totals compared to last year’s. In that case, we aren’t comparing DeRozan to Leonard, we’re comparing DeRozan to a nine-game ghost. The Spurs finished 47–35 last season largely without a superstar; in the nine games Kawhi did play, San Antonio went 5–4. Some key players who helped that happen are now gone: Tony Parker signed with Charlotte, Danny Green was traded to Toronto, Slo Mo is now Grittin’ and Grindin’ in Memphis. But Dejounte Murray had already taken over Parker’s starting duties, LaMarcus Aldridge remains, and DeRozan isn’t replacing Leonard so much as filling a vacancy.
Pacers: 47.5 wins
Relative to the rest of the East’s win totals, 47.5 wins puts Indiana about where it should be: Fourth in the playoff seeding, behind Boston, Philadelphia, and Toronto. But the seven games separating the Pacers from the Raptors and Sixers (tied at 54.5 wins) is sizable for a franchise that went 48–34 last season, took LeBron to seven in the playoffs, and had a not-so-sneaky good offseason. Indiana wasn’t flashy, but it did pick up a gaggle of solid contributors. They lost Lance Stephenson, but upgraded with Tyreke Evans (who is coming off a career year), added Kyle O’Quinn and Doug McDermott, and drafted a Holiday brother (Aaron). The Pacers rounded out a roster that was already close to breaking the 50-win barrier. They didn’t get worse.
Worth Revisiting on Bovada Down the Line
Warriors: 62.5 wins
The overriding narrative about Golden State last season — other than the one about the team remaining unbeatable — was that the group was tired. Sources close to the team might even say bored. What else could they be after three straight trips to the Finals and 207 wins out of 247 regular-season games? Their 58 wins last season was the lowest since 2013–14, but that didn’t matter. Golden State won, again. Their 21-game postseason run puts the franchise at 83 combined playoff games over the past four seasons, meaning the Warriors have essentially played an extra season over the course of their dynasty. Saying that Golden State is exhausting itself out of wins is a very glass-half-empty way to look at their continued dominance, but their stamina (and that glass) will eventually empty. Last season’s fatigue will only increase next season. The win total might have also gotten a bump because of their addition of DeMarcus Cousins, but Boogie with a torn Achilles isn’t the key to sudden revitalization.
Blazers: 41.5 wins
Not only would this put Portland out of the playoffs, but 41.5 wins wouldn’t even be enough to be first runner-up. Vegas either has postseason recency bias or it has a point: The Blazers bench (Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier, and Pat Connaughton) cleared out, and other than re-signing Jusuf Nurkic to a four-year, $48 million deal, and adding Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas, the team stayed nearly the same while many rivals made much more daring moves. The advantage that Portland does have over a few other teams (especially the Lakers) is familiarity, but as we saw against the Pelicans in April, that probably won’t help them in the postseason (if there is one). It should, however, help their regular-season win total. They are no longer in the conversation of elite teams, but 41.5 still feels a smidge low.
Seems About Right, Surprisingly
Jazz: 48.5 wins
Like Portland, Utah will enter the season with the advantage of knowing how it best operates. The difference is that the Jazz have ample potential to get better. Thanks to the unexpected rise of rookie Donovan Mitchell, Quin Snyder found a way to rebuild his offense post Gordon Hayward. The immediate outcome was 48 wins and an extended playoff run that ended in the second round, but the Jazz were convincingly led by Mitchell (21 years old) and Rudy Gobert (then 25). It felt like a promise of more. Snyder has taken a lot from his time in the San Antonio system as the coach of the Austin Toros, and now, entering his fifth season at the helm of the Jazz, he’s developed a Popovichean ability to build an optimized machine out of spare parts. There is a Spurs-like sense of stability in Utah. The Jazz will have what it takes to compete with the best every year, and they’re only getting started.