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Four Takeaways From the NBA’s Win-Total Odds

Can we beat Vegas? History says “no,” but some of these odds make us think we can.

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Let me preface what I’m about to say by saying that I mean it as a compliment. Truly. And, since you’re in an understanding mood, let me give the preface some context: I am well aware that “I mean this as a compliment” usually follows something that didn’t feel good to hear. That may be the case here. Still, Lakers fans, I mean this as a compliment: Blind devotion is inspiring.

Before Vegas released its 2019-20 win totals last week, I knew the outrage that would follow. Los Angeles, no matter the bet, the stakes, or the odds that its team was given—short of a perfect season and a title and LeBron James and Anthony Davis averaging 40 and 40 apiece—would be offended. That kind of devotion is also unrelenting, which is why this reaction is an annual thing. Except this year, all of Los Angeles was disgusted. The Lakers opened at 51.5 wins, and the Clippers opened at 55.5 wins. Both fan bases were appalled.

But there are some actually egregious, non-L.A. odds out there—and bets to be made on them. Here are my favorites:

Easy Overs

Thunder: Opened at 28 wins

Vegas owes Shai Gilgeous-Alexander an apology. The entire city. Even the nightclubs, even the gondoliers. I hope he gets bottle service in the Venetian’s Grand Canal. Our bad, a tiny airplane spells out overhead in white smoke or whatever surely environmentally-safe emission it is that they use, here’s some Grey Goose. And will you marry me? Twenty-eight wins. I’ll admit that there is little precedent for Oklahoma City this season, having lost its best player, Paul George, and its longest-tenured, Russell Westbrook. But sandwiching the Thunder between the Suns (27 wins) and the Wizards (28.5 wins) is an insult.

Did Chris Paul retire? Steven Adams shrink? Billy Donovan still has Dennis Schröder and Andre Roberson. He gained Danilo Gallinari, who is coming off a career year. And then there’s SGA, the trade piece that was the toughest to give up for Clippers fans, the most likely future subject of “What if?” articles if the whole George–Kawhi Leonard thing doesn’t work out. There’s a chance Paul is dealt, of course, and even if he’s not, he’ll almost certainly aggravate an injury and miss time. But even CP3-less, the over is calling.

Spurs: Opened at 43.5

There is no “fool me once” in gambling. The shame is always on you. (“You” in a sweeping, general sense of all bettors; not you you; you’re a winner and a credit to your family! Bravo!) The Spurs are an exception. The Spurs fool the oddsmakers. Last year, San Antonio opened at 43.5 wins and finished with 48. This year, the Spurs opened at the same number. That’s odd, since on paper the Spurs improved. Starting point guard Dejounte Murray is back after missing the entire 2018-19 season. The Spurs took the Nuggets to seven games in the first round without Murray, and now return virtually their entire roster, plus offseason additions DeMarre Carroll and Trey Lyles. The exit in Game 7 was ugly, yes, thanks in part to LaMarcus Aldridge, who forgot to foul. (Aldridge, of course, is also returning this season. Aldridge also also led the Spurs in scoring, rebounding, and win shares last season. Aldridge is a very welcome returnee!) We’re well-versed in the idea that teams and players perform differently in the postseason than they do in the regular season until it’s time to predict upcoming regular-season records. Then we remember what we saw in the playoffs. Don’t think about the playoffs. Take the over.

Seems About Right, Surprisingly

Warriors: Opened at 47

When I think of the two greatest teams in recent history, I think of counting. The LeBron-era Heat began with a count—“Not one, not two, not three,” etc.—and the Warriors dynasty ended with one. “It won’t take one injury to render Golden State beatable,” we said from summer 2016 on, “it’d take two.” Klay Thompson won’t come back from his ACL injury until at least February or March. Kevin Durant won’t be returning at all. Subtract those two, and Golden State is beatable—projecting them to finish with a full 10 wins fewer than last year’s 57 feels right.

The post-KD Warriors are not the pre-KD Warriors. Andre Iguodala is gone, D’Angelo Russell is here, and Steph Curry’s body, already standing atop two worn, injury-prone ankles, has endured long postseasons for years. (And, without Durant and Thompson, will need to carry much more of the load.) Without Thompson, the entire defensive identity changes. Curry is harder to hide. Russell isn’t a defensive option the team can lean on. The truths we knew about the Warriors are going to change, including their records.

Consider the Under

Nets: Opened at 47

Durant’s former team and his current team opening at the same win total is a fun coincidence considering neither will have him this season. (Probably. The soonest a player has returned from an Achilles injury is 7.5 months. Most players take around a year.) (For context, Wesley Matthews had the quickest comeback. Kevin: Please take your time.)

Forty-seven wins would represent a five-game bump from last season’s 42-40 record. The Nets clawed to that record despite multiple injuries. Now healthy, and with Kyrie Irving in place of Russell, Brooklyn should be better right away. Except consider the team’s new additions: Irving may bring more, but he plays less. The 27-year-old missed 15 regular-season games last season, and 22 the season before. Over the past four years, he’s been active for an average of 63 games. A handsomely paid DeAndre Jordan will assume a chunk of Jarrett Allen’s playing time, despite the former coming off the worst year he’s had in some time, and the latter coming off a breakout season.