Predicting Every NBA Division Winner for 2018
Division odds come courtesy of TopBet. Please make sure you’re re-evaluating these lines before placing an actual wager, specifically in the case of the tighter races. Odds can shift by the game if two or three teams are neck and neck vying for the same position.
Atlantic Division: Boston Celtics (-275)
Rolling with the Toronto Raptors (+150) here would be an interesting proposition. Their offense has been generally more reliable than the Boston Celtics’ this year, and they rank high enough on the defensive and bench-depth scales to buy into them making a push for the Atlantic Division title.
The Celtics’ recent losing streak doesn’t help their case. They’ve dropped a ton of winnable games, and they place dead last in offensive efficiency since Dec. 15, a stretch spanning 18th tilts. That they’ve played out the NBA’s second-easiest schedule to date doesn’t help their cause.
Still, they have a hold on the NBA’s best defense, and the offense won’t lag forever. Jayson Tatum will work himself out of a rookie wall, and Kyrie Irving will resume getting buckets at a higher clip. And the Raptors, for what it’s worth, haven’t played a much more difficult schedule.
At least some of Toronto’s depth feels like a flash in the pan as well. Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl, Fran VanVleet, C.J. Miles and Pascal Siakam have all been good-to-great off the pine, but the odds of that holding across the board all year are fairly slim.
Central Division: Cleveland Cavaliers (-1200)
Picking the Indiana Pacers (+1800) will pique the attention of long-shot artists. They’re only a couple of games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers in the standings and play contender-level basketball whenever Victor Oladipo is on the floor doing his thing—which, for the record, consists of hitting a ton of pull-ups and spot-ups while making plays in transition.
Plus, on top of that, the Cavaliers are a crap show at the moment. They’ve lost 10 of their 12 last games in every way imaginable, from blowing leads, to never even being in the game, to crumbling in crunch time. And their defense, to make matters worse, isn’t getting any better. They’re 29th on the season in points allowed per 100 possessions, without any clear path toward improving—especially when head coach Tyronn Lue is running out Kevin Love, Isaiah Thomas and J.R. Smith, three non-entities at the less glamorous end, in the same starting.
But let’s not jump the gun. The Cavaliers are still the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, because they have LeBron James. And they’re going to make at least one or two minor improvements at the trade deadline.
If that doesn’t do it for you, then remember we go through this with them every year: They stumble during the dog days of the season, only to recover most of their swagger in time for the playoffs. Even if you doubt their ability to come out of the East this time around, it would be foolish to bet against them on the division front.
Southeast Division: Miami Heat (+115)
Controversial pick alert!
Many will want to roll with the odds-on favorites in the Washington Wizards (-170). But they’ve been too damn inconsistent to trust in the current product.
Initially billed as a potential contender for a No. 2 seed, and perhaps the biggest threat to Cleveland in the East, they’re decidedly mediocre. They don’t rank inside the top 10 of either offensive or defensive efficiency, and their shot profile has regressed considerably.
Bradley Beal is an All-Star, but still the Wizards struggle to manufacture buckets whenever John Wall isn’t in the game. The bench, meanwhile, remains uninspiring at best. Mike Scott, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Tomas Satoransky have all had their moments this year, yet not one of them has the ball-handling and playmaking chops to be the face of second unit.
Failing a move at the trade deadline, or a sudden decision to stagger more of Beal’s and Wall’s minutes, the Wizards feel poised to run in place: behind a Heat team that has started the New Year with a top-six defense and offense just good enough to get by.
Northwest Division: Oklahoma City Thunder (+135)
Another controversial selection.
Oddsmakers have tabbed the Minnesota Timberwolves (-155) as the prohibitive Northwest Division favorite for obvious reasons. They have the NBA’s best offense over their past 25 games—and yes, this includes the fireball that is the Golden State Warriors. Even the Timberwolves’ defense has come together. Led by Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson, along with noticeable improvement from Karl-Anthony Towns, they place 10th in points allowed per 100 possessions since Christmas.
Call me crazy for going against them, but yours truly is just sold on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s star power. Their starting lineup has been blitzing opponents over the past few weeks, while the offense in general is starting to figure things out.
Carmelo Anthony is sacrificing touches and shots. Ditto for Paul George. Everyone is all-in on Russell Westbrook remaining in perpetual attack mode. And it’s working. The Thunder are quietly deploying the 10th-best offense for the year now, and their defense still places in the top four of efficiency.
More telling than anything, the Thunder have the seventh-best point differential per 100 possessions for the year, just behind the San Antonio Spurs. And that’s with their early-season malaise baked in.
Give the Timberwolves props, but when their rise up the Northwest ladder, and the conference ladder in general, is tethered so tightly to a league-best offense and much-improved defense, a three-game lead over the Thunder doesn’t feel like enough.
Pacific Division: Golden State Warriors (-100000)
Imagine picking against the Warriors. Seriously, imagine it.
The next closest candidate to win the Pacific Division is the Los Angeles Clippers (+5000), who are not only risks to blow up the roster at the trade deadline, but also trail Golden State by a whopping 14 games in the standings.
Yeah, there’s nothing left to say here. This division isn’t worth betting on, because it’s already been won.
Southwest Division: Houston Rockets (-600)
Although the Spurs (+275) might have the juice to make things interesting for the Houston Rockets down the stretch, we know better.
Head coach Gregg Popovich historically doesn’t give a damn about division titles or postseason seeding, and that’s not about to change now. Besides, Kawhi Leonard is back on the injured list with a lingering right quad issue. The Spurs don’t have a timeline for his return, and if he’s not back by mid-February, even the best version of San Antonio doesn’t hold a candle to Houston.
One thing to maybe consider: The health of the Rockets’ backcourt. Chris Paul has missed significant time with knee problems, and James Harden just recently returned from a hamstring injury—an issue that can linger. If Houston is forced to play out another long stretch without one of them, San Antonio could gain some ground.
That being said, the Rockets have a four-game lead on the Southwest Division’s top spot right now. It would take some kind of simultaneous downfall from them and superhuman tear from the Spurs to make this a truly interesting race.
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