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TGS SPECIAL REPORT...NBA SEASON WINS TO WATCH!

by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor 

If it seems like it was just a  few weeks ago that the last NBA season concluded, it wouldn't be totally inaccuate, as the Bucks didn't lift their first trophy since 1971 until after the MLB All-Star Game.   And, in retrospect, we sort of liked the season getting undereway a bit later than normal (though not, of course, under the circumstances).  Whatever, we're back to a normal tiemframe this season, with October hoops here once more.

You know the drill, as TGS tips off another exciting season of basketball coverage soon to be augmented by college hoops. Select NBA games will be featured at the outset in our unique TGS Hoops publication while LTS selections will be available daily online at 12:15 PM PDT.

As we usually like to do at the start of each season, we feature a quick look at some preferred NBA season-win “over/under” recommendations, with the latest win numbers from Bet365 included with each listed team.  Hang on for the ride!.


EASTERN CONFERENCE

ATLANTIC DIVISION: Best bet... The Ben Simmons saga with the Philadelphia 76ers (50 ½) has become enough of a talking point on the venerable WIP that not every call to Angelo Cataldi’s morning show in October has been about the Eagles. (Believe us, that's a big ddevelopment in Philly.) The ramp to elsewhere seems paved for Simmons, as trade talk figures to continue as long as he is in town, even when he doesn’t suit up (as will be the case opening night due to his suspension after being kicked out of practice early this week by Doc Rivers). As is the case with big-money contracts like Simmons’, fitting the trade pieces won’t be easy, and we’re not sure there is a hot Simmons market for Daryl Morey to tap, anyway.  Moreover, Morey is going to have to get plenty of value back to compensate for Simmons in any trade, because Ben's length could be greatly missed in the 20 or so games (at a minimum) that Joel Embiid is going to miss this season. The tricky part for the Sixers is that they need to trade Simmons but by no means are guaranteed to improve after any deal. Too many ways for things to go sideways on Philly; we’re saying “under” at Wells Fargo Arena.


Others to watch...Speaking of distractions, Kyrie Irving’s vaccine status will apparently keep him out of games for the Brooklyn Nets (57 ½)  until a) he changes his mind and gets a Covid shot, or b) the new mayor in New York (we’re guessing it will be Eric Adams) decides to relax Bill DeBlasio’s mandates.  Maybe by sometime in winter when Covid subsides this all becomes mute, but for the moment Kyrie’s is a situation to watch, as the Nets are not ready to accommodate him as a part-time player for road games; stay tuned.  As Kevin Durant figures to have trouble staying healthy all season, Steve Nash is going to need Kyrie at some point, and considering this NBA-high win total, we'd rather look “under” at Barclays Center.... We’ll see how the Boston Celtics (46 ½) fare after a lot of deck-shuffling in the offseason, not the least of which was GM Danny Ainge’s retirement, HC Brad Stevens replacing him, and Ime Udika replacing Stevens.  Got all of that?  Kemba Walker is also gone, which means Marcus Smart’s full-time move to the point will be closely watched.  But we like the addiions of Dennis Schroder and Josh Riochardson for backcourt depth, and the return of Al Horford (added in the Kemba deal) provides a versatile frontline component.  We’re looking “over” in Beantown.    

SOUTHEAST DIVISION: Best Bet... That was a different Atlanta Hawks (46 ½) last season after vet HC Nate McMillan replaced the well-meaning but overmatched Lloyd Pierce at the end of February. The transformation was immediate, as the Hawks began to play with more structure and ceased to take off possessions on the stop end.  The defense could be even stickier this season if lengthy wing DeAndre Hunter can stay healthy; while on the floor with John Collins and Clint Capela, ATL posted some eye-opening defensive numbers while outscoring foes by 15.6 pottns per 100 possessions.  All of it seemed to help Trae Young blossom into a superstar, and if the Hawks maintain anything near the win rate they had after McMillan took over, the only thing that likely stops ATL clearing this win number is injuries (which must be mentioned, especially with Capela involved).   Remember, the Hawks returns 9 of their top 10, and 11 of their top 13, players from last season, and we are intrigued with the possibilities for Auburn rookie G Sharife Cooper.  While the Braves have Atlanta jumping right now, the Hawks will get antoher turn soon; look “over” at State Farm Arena. 

Others to watch...  We can envision a scenario wherein the Miami Heat (48 ½) takes it foot off of the gas late in the season to keep the troops healthy, all with an eye to the playoffs.  Which might not help an “over” wins recommendation.  But we very much like some of the offseason moves made by Pat Riley, including the addition of some real grit in the likes of Kyle Lowry, P.J. Tucker, and Markieff Morris, to the delight (we’re sure) of HC Erik Spoelstra.  And then there’s former All-Star Victor Oladipo, still battling injuries (right now a quad) butof unquestioned value when healthy.  If nothing else, we can say that the supporting case for Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo has improved.  It’s an “over” for us at AA Arena.


CENTRAL DIVISION: Best bet... Still in acknowledged rebuild territory, the Detroit Pistons (24 ½) hope that top overall draft pick Cade Cunningham from Oklahoma State can become the new focal point.  But along with Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart, the Pistons feature three players who could all still be playing college ball, each a mere 20 years old, suggesting Detroit isn’t built to win right now. (Note that Cunningham will also likely miss some action out of the gate with an ankle sprain.)   A lot of pressure thus on key veterans Jerami Grant and Saddiq Bey to continue their production from last season, if for no other reason than to provide some shield for the kids.  But there doesn’t seem to be any urgency to win right now, and HC Dwane Casey is not under any undue pressure...at least yet.  In what looks like a very deep Eastern Conference, clearing 25 winsseems more than a bit oif a chore for this roster more built for 2023 or '24; “under” for us at Little Caesars.  

Others to watch...It’s been a while since anyone got excited about the Chicago Bulls (42 ½), who certainly didn’t sit on their hands in the offseason, instead offering a near-complete revamp.  To wit: only three players (Zach LaVine, Coby White, Robert Williams)  remain from the roster that began last season, and after years of banging their heads against the wall trying to build thru the draft, Chicago got active in the trade market instead.  Beginning at last season’s deadline, really, when Nikola Vucevic came from the Magic, and continuing in the offseason when Lonzo Ball and Demar DeRozan were added in sign-and-trade deals.  DeRozan, in particular, provides a third go-to option aside from Vucevic and LaVine, whose late-season Covid absence last spring scuttled any playoff hopes.  Now, there’s hope that four-year postseason drought ends (they’d probably even settle for a play-in spot in the Windy City).  Play “over” at United Center... We are usually reluctant to aim high with defending champs like the Milwaukee Bucks (54 ½), who will make sure to marshal their resources for the spring and the playoffs.  No matter, there is so much depth and firepower on he roster that only long-term absence of Giannis, beyond the occasional and expected rest nights, figure to slow Mike Budenholzer’s powerhouse.  The Freak, Jrue Holiday, and Khris Middleton provide a great foundation, and while they are a bit concerned in Brew Town about the departure of jack-of-all-trades P.J. Tucker (who came in handy against Kevin Durant in the playoffs), the return of a healthy Donte DiVincenzo, who missed almost the entirety pf the postseason, should be a plus.  The Bucks look to have the best shot of any team to reach 60 wins, so it’s an “over” for us at FiServ Forum.

WESTERN CONFERENCE


SOUTHWEST DIVISION: Best bet...
Last season at this time it was the Houston Rockets (27 ½) in the “Ben Simmons situation” with James Harden, who was in the process of forcing a trade out of town.  Not long after, the Beard was gone to Brooklyn, but there was destruction left in his wake, and we’re hardly sure the Rockets have fit the pieces back together just yet.  Stephen Silas continues to work with a very young roster and can ill afford for any key contributors to go down, like 6-10 Christian Wood, who flashes much upside but not much durability.  Four first-round draft picks were all teenagers, including SG Jalen Green, while another young wing, Kevin Porter, Jr., has hinted at potential stardom if he can put off-court issues behind him.  Even with a couple of vets like G Eric Gordon and recently-added C Daniel Theis, they’re around more to mentor the youngsters.  In the unforgiving West, the Rockets will probably take another season's worth of lumps after their forced rebuild that began after the last campaign commenced.  “Under” at Toyota Center..


Others to watch... Few easy wins in the West means that it could be another year of tanking for the Oklahoma City Thunder (23 ½), who might have only one bona fide NBA starter–G Shai-Gilgeous Alexander– in their mix. The draft lottery also was not kind to GM Sam Presti, as the ping-pong balls dropped the Thunder to sixth pick, and, just as importantly, the Rockets to number two–which meant Presti couldn’t swap Miami’s pick at No. 18 for Houston’s. So, Presti has mostly been accumulating the dreaded “future assets” (draft picks, etc.), which is nevery music to the ears of fan bases that might not be interested in sitting through a couple of years of misery while waiting a couple of years for a competitive product. “Under” at the Peake.

NORTHWEST DIVISION: Best bet...
There are hints that Damian Lillard is getting  tired of early-round playoff exits with the Portland Trailblazers (44 ½), who might regret moving out capable HC Terry Stotts in the offseason.  That Chauncey Billups, with only one year on the sidelimes as an assistant.  will prove an upgrade on the sideline is hardly a guarantee.  But as long as injuries don’t arise, no reason the Blazers can’t get into the high 40s on the win side with Dame and CJ McCollum still among the most-dynamic backcourt combos in the league.  Meanwhile, Norman Powell and Robert Covington provide excellent perimeter depth, while Jusuf Nurkic is a functional presence on the blocks, and Larry Nance, Jr. a unique, versatile and very lengthy option.   Defensive issues (which were officially to blame for Stotts’ dismissal)  might put a ceiling at 50 wins on the high side, but there’s plenty of room to clear 44, so as long as Lillard and McCollum can stay mostly healthy,  it’s an “over” for us at Moda Center. .


Others to watch... The Utah Jazz (52 ½) haven’t been back to the Finals in close to a quarter-century now, but they sure looked like it for much of last season with one of the most-devastating long-range shooting offense in memory that resulted in the best NBA regular-season record.   Looking to take the next step after falling vs. the Clippers in the West semis, the Jazz added vet Rudy Gay, who appears to be an upgrade from Georges Niang and whose versatility provides Quin Snyder the opportunity to utilize a small-ball lineup.  It’s also worth noting that Donovan Mitchell’s late-season ankle injury slowed him considerably in the playoffs, and if at full strength, Utah often looked like the best in the West last term.  Look “over” in Salt Lake City.   

PACIFIC DIVISION: Best bet... The forgotten team in the NBA has been the Golden State Warriors (48 ½), not long ago considered a near-dynasty but now an afterthought after injuries wrecked a chance at a 4-peat in the 2019 Finals and effectively wiped out the last two seasons.  But with Klay Thompson targeting a November return, it means a potential Splash Brothers reunion with Steph Curry, and these last two troubling seasons have allowed GM Bob Myers and HC Steve Kerr to develop more depth beyond the title-winning pedigree of Steph, Klay, and Draymond Green.  Moroever, recent and shrewd vet additions including Andre Iguodala, Otto Porter, Jr., and Nemanka Bjelica will aid a supporting cast that still has a mostly young and promising,  look.  Getting back a healthy Thompson to pair with Curry, however, is what mostly motivates this “over” call at Chase Center. 

Others to watch... Though the offseason addition of Russell Westbrook most of the headlines for the Los Angeles Lakers (52 ½), we suspect it will be something less than a smooth ride with Russ, working on a fourth team in as many years and not likely to have the ball in his hands as much as will LeBron.  That’s not an easy issue to resolve for Frank Vogel.  Thus, we suspect this transition will take some time to ferment, and at this stage of his career, there are real health concerns with LeBron (who has missed significant chunks of two of the past three seasons), not to mention Anthony Davis, who durability (or lack thereof) has been acknowledged.  The LA bench also got thinned in the offseason, partly due to the Westbrook trade to the Wizards, with wing defenders now in short supply.  What also must be figured is load management for King James and Davis, which figures to take them out of lots of regular-season games anyway even before any potential injuries.  We're looking “under” for the Jack Nicholson half of the Staples Center...  The playoffs went great until the end for the Phoenix Suns (51 ½).  Demonstrating the basketball people in the organization, like GM James Jones & HC Monty Williams, and not owner Robert Sarver, are calling the shots, they wisely extended Chris Paul another four years.  Thus, the difference-maker for the Suns is going to stick around the desert for a while; now, can he stay healthy for the whole season?  There might be the key to clearing this win total, as with Paul on the floor, the rest of the cast including (especially) Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, and Cameron Johnson provide plenty of other perimeter options, while Deandre Ayton continues to progress on the blocks.  (Watch Ayton’s contract situation, however...and hope Sarver stays out of it.)  The Suns, with reasonable health (meaning Paul),  can likely make another deep playoff run, so it’s an “over” for us at the Talking Stick


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