The Eastern Conference was supposed to be better this year. But judging by the way some of these awful teams are performing against the NBA odds, the East just isn’t keeping up with expectations.
Jason’s record as of Dec. 25: 20-19-1 ATS, 1-3 Totals
And the tanks just keep on comin’. Skimming the cream off the top of the 2014 NBA Draft class wasn’t enough for the worst teams in the Eastern Conference – these guys are going for a double-dip. We knew that was the plan for the Philadelphia 76ers (4-23 SU, 14-13 ATS), so their basketball odds have been pretty much spot-on thus far. But major offseason front-office moves have failed to deliver in two of the NBA’s most important markets.
Meanwhile, as is often the case, plucky regional teams are making money hand over fist. Let’s look at the biggest “fade” and “follow” teams coming out of the holiday break; then we’ll check in on how the top two Eastern contenders are doing on their journey to the NBA Finals.
When Phil Jackson took over as PBO for the New York Knicks, few people believed he’d be able to turn their fortunes around right away. They had a win total of 40.5 on the NBA odds list, which already seemed generous enough. But things have gone even more poorly than expected: New York is chasing Philadelphia for last place at 5-25 SU and 12-18 ATS. Blame the triangle, or blame the injuries – either way, things can only get better. Eventually.
Same thing for the Detroit Pistons (5-23 SU, 8-20 ATS). Stan Van Gundy inherited a terribly-constructed roster, and like Jackson with the Knicks, he didn’t have a first-round pick in the 2014 Draft to help him out. So Van Gundy decided to take his time before blowing things up. However, things got so bad that he waived Josh Smith (14.2 PER) on Monday, after failing to work out a suitable trade. It’s a start.
We the North/South
While the Knicks and Pistons are faltering, the Milwaukee Bucks (14-15 SU, 20-9 ATS) have been the most profitable NBA pick in the entire league. They already had a promising young team before adding head coach Jason Kidd and second-overall pick Jabari Parker (14.7 PER), so perhaps the Bucks can withstand the loss of Parker for the season to a torn ACL.
The other big success stories in the East happen to be the top two seeds going into the break. The Toronto Raptors (22-7 SU, 17-12 ATS) and the Atlanta Hawks (21-7 SU, 18-10 ATS) have built on last year’s results without upsetting the core of their respective rosters. They traditionally enjoy a betting advantage as regional markets, and the Hawks in particular had room to be profitable after welcoming Al Horford (19.8 PER) back into the fold following an injury-shortened 2013-14 campaign.
That Tears It
Those top two spots in the Eastern standings were supposed to be occupied, in some order, by the Cleveland Cavaliers (17-10 SU, 11-16 ATS) and the Chicago Bulls (19-9 SU, 14-14 ATS). That could very well be the case by the time the playoffs roll around. But it was a bit of a slow start for both teams this year, which makes it less likely they’ll go OVER their projected win totals.
Cleveland’s road to the Finals just picked up another roadblock, as well. Anderson Varejao (17.6 PER), who hasn’t played close to a full season in five years, has been ruled out for the rest of 2014-15 after suffering a torn Achilles tendon on Tuesday. Tristan Thompson (16.4 PER) will start at center and should fill the role admirably, but that leaves a very big hole on the already-thin Cavaliers bench.
With that in mind, we suspect the Bulls will end up first overall in April, but it all depends on the shaky health of Derrick Rose (18.7 PER) and Joakim Noah (15.3 PER). Make your NBA picks accordingly, and may the sphere be with you in 2015.