The Eastern Conference is still the weaker conference in the NBA. Of the 15 players who made one of the three All-NBA squads in 2017-18, 12 play in the Western Conference.
However there is a rising trio of young Eastern Conference powers: the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers. They all should win at least 50 to 55 games and compete well with any team in the NBA, regardless of conference.
There is a wide variety of levels of play in the Eastern Conference. Let’s look at what 5Dimes is predicting for each team’s win total in 2018-19 and then decide how you should bet on each of these lines. We will give three “over” predictions and three “under” picks. These six will be your smartest teams to bet on.
Best Over Bets
Chicago Bulls (over 28 wins @ -115 with 5Dimes)
The proud Bulls have been in decline for the past several years. Chicago’s win total has decreased from 50 to 42 to 41 to 27 since the 2014-15 season.
However, with a decent young core in place and a handful of less talented squads in the East, the Bulls should definitely crack 28 wins. Zach LaVine, Jabari Parker and Lauri Markkanen will be tough for opponents to handle with their offensive skill set. Role players like Bobby Portis, Kris Dunn, Wendell Carter Jr., Robin Lopez, Justin Holiday and Denzel Valentine can do positive things.
This Chicago squad doesn’t have bad players in featured roles, unlike the truly terrible teams, and it is deep. The Bulls have playoff potential, but expect them to win somewhere around 34 or 35 games.
Toronto Raptors (over 54 wins @ -130 with 5Dimes)
The Raptors won 59 games last year. In the offseason, they got a player who is arguably a top-five guy in the league (Kawhi Leonard) and another starter-level wing (Danny Green). Sure, All-Star DeMar DeRozan is gone, and so is promising young big man Jakob Poeltl, but Toronto definitely got better on paper.
This is a team that is extremely well-equipped to thrive in the modern NBA. With players like Leonard, DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Delon Wright, Toronto has a lot of guys who can successfully defend multiple positions. Kyle Lowry, C.J. Miles, Fred VanVleet, Leonard and Green will give the squad a whole bunch of outside shooting punch.
The Raptors are mostly young and should be improving, not declining. Unless Leonard’s impending free agency and desire to play in Los Angeles becomes a distraction for this squad, it should win about as many games as last season.
Indiana Pacers (over 46 @ -120 with 5Dimes)
Can the Pacers reprise last season’s surprising 48-win season? The squad’s successful offseason sure gives them a good chance at doing so. All of their best players return, such as Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young, Darren Collison and Domantas Sabonis. The main guys they lost did not provide much, while new additions Tyreke Evans, Doug McDermott and Kyle O’Quinn should be helpful.
Evans, in particular, will make Indiana a much more formidable outfit. Last year, the Pacers were often too reliant on Oladipo to create offense and couldn’t score when opponents trapped him. Evans is a creative ball-handler, passer and scorer who will take a lot of pressure off of Oladipo. McDermott’s three-point shooting will also be a boost to a team that relied too much on mid-range jumpers last season.
Sure, the Pacers did catch some teams off guard last season. Even though other teams will be ready for them this time around, they have strengthened their roster enough to win 50 games.
Best Under Bets
New York Knicks (under 30 wins @ -110 with 5Dimes)
This is a no-brainer right here, as the Knicks will be downright bad next year. Star big man Kristaps Porzingis doesn’t have a timetable for his return from Achilles tendon surgery yet and he was the reason the Knicks were even competitive at all last season. They still won just 29 games and closed the season with a 6-25 stretch.
Without Porzingis, you could make the argument that none of the team’s projected starting five is even an average starter. The squad will let Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Enes Kanter and Kevin Knox run the offense. None of those guys is well-equipped to be a No. 1 (or even No. 2) option for a respectable NBA team. New York also has poor defensive personnel.
The more the Knicks lose, the more new head coach David Fizdale will want to push back Porzingis’ return. Why would the team risk re-injury and get a worse draft pick by bringing him back? Even if Porzingis does come back somewhat early, he probably won’t look like the same player right away.
Orlando Magic (under 31 wins @ -110 with 5Dimes)
The Magic won 25 games last season. Somehow, they are supposed to be six games better despite making no major moves that will move the needle in 2018-19. Their No. 6 overall draft pick, Mohamed Bamba, has a high ceiling, but he’s more of a project and there is a bit of a logjam at the 4/5 slot (Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Nikola Vucevic and Timofey Mozgov all play there already).
Orlando’s point guard situation might be the worst in the NBA. Neither D.J. Augustin or Jerian Grant is a starting-caliber floor general. The Magic also have almost no outside shooting, a problem that will be magnified by the issue of its lack of perimeter playmaking.
Gordon, Isaac and Bamba are all nice pieces for the franchise, but a team with little to no punch at the 1, 2 and 3 positions is going to struggle significantly.
Charlotte Hornets (under 35 wins @ -105 with 5Dimes)
This is the “under” betting prediction that this preview is least confident in, because it presupposes that the Hornets blow things up at some point in the season. Charlotte won 36 games in its last two campaigns and fields a similar roster to each of those years. New head coach James Borrego is a former San Antonio Spurs assistant who should do a fine job, but there is not a great ceiling with the current roster.
Charlotte’s salary cap situation is an absolute nightmare right now. It doesn’t have much opportunity to improve, but it has just enough decent players to stay respectable.
If the Hornets are smart, they focus on building for the future in 2018-19 by trading away some of their bigger contracts and giving more playing time to younger players.