Season Previews: Chasing The Playoffs

Miami, Cleveland, Charlotte, Washington chase the playoffs.

Continuing on from our previews of the East’s big three and those chasing them for a top seed, we’re now taking a look at the teams on fringe of the playoff picture. Assuming the six teams already previewed will make the playoffs as they should, only two of these four can make it to the postseason.

Read on for my thoughts, predictions and betting advice for the best of the rest in the Eastern Conference. Enjoy!

Charlotte Hornets
2017-18 record: 36-46, 10th in the East

The Hornets somehow managed to have the same win-loss record for the second straight season last year despite quite a few major roster changes. Coming into this season, veteran point guard Tony Parker and center Bismack Biyombo have joined the squad. Although both are able enough players, it’s difficult to see them having a major impact on the team’s playoff chances.

The loss of Dwight Howard to the Wizards may be the roster change that leaves the biggest impression on the Hornets’ season. Although a polarising character, Howard has always been an elite rebounder – pulling down 12.5 rebounds per game last season – and is being replaced by a sub-par (and $17 million/year) center. Biyombo averaged under six rebounds a game last year and has only managed a dire five points per contest during his seven-year career.

Charlotte look to be a very weak rebounding team this year – Biyombo is the forecast to be the team’s strongest player. The team does possess four players that can play at the five, but all of them have averaged under seven rebounds for their career. It may be worth keeping an eye out for dominant centers lining up against the Hornets and backing them to beat the line in their over/under rebounds market.

The Hornets will have Kemba Walker plying his trade for them once again this season. Walker has led the team in both scoring and playmaking nearly every year since being drafted by the team in 2011. However, Walker is out of contract at the end of this season and the team may look to trade him away prior to February’s trade deadline to avoid losing him for nothing. This could severely impact on Charlotte’s win-loss record come the end of the season.

As a result, I recommend backing the Hornets to win less than 35.5 games this season at 10/11 with Skybet. This may look a very nice bet should Charlotte be looking to move Walker come February. Don’t be surprised to see the Hornets go into free fall after the All-Star break and miss out on the playoffs.

The Cavs lineup for the 2018-19 season

Cleveland Cavaliers
2017-18 record: 50-32, 4th in the East

This season will be a huge test for Cleveland because, I don’t know if you’ve heard, LeBron James left the team in free agency this summer. The loss of James is, of course, huge – he’s one of the greatest to play the game and any team he plays for is an instant contender for the championship.

The organisation has decided not to tank for draft picks (as it did when James left for the first time in 2010), but instead signed Love to a four-year $120 million and hopes to remain a playoff team. The Cavs decision to commit to a Love-led team for the next four years means the front office must firmly believe he can star as a first-option scorer.

Before joining James in Cleveland in 2014, Love was the star player in Minnesota – a 20-10 threat every night he stepped on to the hardwood. But during his four years in Ohio, Love’s points, rebounds and usage stats all fell from what they were during his most prolific years in Minnesota. If he can roll back the years, the Cavs should be able to make the playoffs with what is still a decent roster in a weak Eastern Conference. Based on this, the Cavs to make the playoffs at 5/1 with Skybet seems a very good bet, at a very nice price. If you’re looking for more certainty, perhaps Cleveland to win over 32.5 games at evens with Skybet is more your cup of tea.

Players such as Rodney Hood, JR Smith and George Hill will get the chance to prove they are still the players they were before finding themselves under the microscope as a teammate of LeBron. Hood has impressed coaching staff during the training camp; Smith is never short of confidence and will no doubt continue attempting the bizarre; whilst Hill will be able to resume playmaking duties rather than play as a spot up shooter.

Along with a bevy of talented veterans, Cleveland also possesses a couple of nice young players in Cedi Osman and Collin Sexton. Osman became a fan favourite over his rookie season and managed to play well in a limited role. Should he continue to improve, his minutes should continue to climb. Sexton is a promising who’ll no doubt challenge Hill for a starting role over the course of the season.

The team made several additions over the summer. Channing Frye has returned to Cleveland – an important part of the 2016 championship team – and should be able to fill some important minutes off the bench whilst being a positive locker room influence. Also joining the Cavs is defensive specialist David Nwaba and three-point threat Sam Dekker.

Should it all come together and Cleveland return to the playoffs without James, I can really see head coach Ty Lue winning coach of the year at the end of the season. At 150/1 with Paddy Power, what’s not to like?

Miami will be aiming for a top 4 seed this season.

Miami Heat
2017-18 record: 44-38, 6th in the East

Miami’s roster for the 2018-19 season remains largely unchanged from last year. Although this may all change should a trade for Jimmy Butler finally happen.

The Heat secured sixth seed last year. Having started the season poorly – they only managed a playoff berth for the first time after Christmas – the team were a consistent team as of the New Year and the return of Dwyane Wade really helped them. Wade is back for what is apparently his final year in the league – expect him to play a vital role as a veteran presence off the bench. If he plays as he did at the backend of last season, there’s nothing stopping Wade winning Sixth Man of the Year and at a massive 50/1 with Paddy Power it’s worth a flutter!

With the team as it is, they should improve slightly on last season. The young core of Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and potential franchise cornerstone Bam Adebayo should all improve again this year. Expect the team to comfortably make the playoffs, but probably not much more. It would be a big shock if the Heat were to make a serious push for a top four seed, barring any major roster changes.

On that topic – Jimmy Butler. His future is still very much up in the air and the Heat are seemingly first in line should Minnesota grant Butler’s trade request. Miami would probably have to give up one of their elder statesmen (Goran Dragic or Hassan Whiteside), Josh Richardson and first round pick. Reports say Miami prefer to keep Richardson and Dragic, trading away disruptive pair Whiteside and Dion Waiters for Butler (and probably Dieng). Regardless of the package, should the Heat add Butler the team instantly becomes a threat to the ‘big three’. Butler is an elite all-rounder and should elevate the team to a home court seed.

However, because of the uncertainty surrounding Butler and any potential move to Miami, it’s difficult to suggest backing the team to land in the top four come April. The team are long odds on to make the playoffs due to their consistency last year and the leadership of coach Erik Spoelstra. However, the team should manage over 42.5 wins this season (4/5 Skybet) seeing that they had a 44-win campaign in 2017-18. Beyond that and the Wade hail mary, I can’t see any reasonable bets for the Heat this season.

Washington Wizard's big three and coach this season.

Washington Wizards
2017-18 record: 43-39, 8th in the East

I almost made the Wizards a team pushing for a top four seed, but their likely lack of consistency and depth make them a playoff chaser rather than a home court hopeful.

John Wall and Bradley Beal are one of the best backcourt duos in the league, but beyond that the team struggle with guard depth. Rivers is a solid deputy able to ply his trade at either guard spot, but the likes of Satoransky, McRae and Meeks just wont cut it.

Wall is returning from knee surgery and whilst he’s looked back to his best in preseason, it’s exactly that: preseason. If he isn’t his usual self or suffers another injury, Washington will be a fringe playoff team at best. Even so, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wall lead the league for assists (5/2 with Skybet) at the end of the season, although keep in mind he will have to play at least 60 games.

The major offseason moves for the team was ridding themselves of Marcin Gortat and bringing in Dwight Howard. Gortat was a major disruption to the locker room chemistry last year, facing off via social media with Wall. With Gortat out, the Wizards signed Howard to a two-year deal. A dominant rebounder and capable scorer, Howard could compliment the team’s star-studded backcourt and might even lead the league in rebounds (too big at 16/1 with Skybet). But he could just as easily wreck team spirit – something he fell foul of with the Lakers and the Rockets.

All in all this is a solid playoff team barring any major injuries, but the fifth or sixth seed will probably be their ceiling. I don’t see this year’s team as a major improvement over last’s and wouldn’t overly surprised to see them win under 45.5 games (11/10 Skybet) but still make the playoffs. For me, the Wizards would need mammoth seasons from at least two of Wall, Beal and Howard to sneak into the East’s top four.

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