The MLB regular season is closing in on its prolonged conclusion, and the NFL and college football seasons are officially in full swing, which can mean only one thing – it is time to start thinking about basketball. Vegas released their omniscient over/under predictions for NBA team’s regular season win totals this past week, and there’s plenty to ruminate on. Here’s four teams whose predictions jumped out.
NEWS FLASH: This past year, the Golden State Warriors eclipsed Michael Jordan’s Bulls’ 1995-96 record win total of 72 games by defeating their poor opponent in 73 of 82 games. After subsequently succumbing to the Cleveland LeBron’s in the greatest finals of our lifetime, Steph Curry and the gang decided to perform a great disservice to competition-enthusiasts everywhere by signing The Durantula aka Kevin Durant aka The-Ember-That-Will-Stoke-Russell-Westbrook’s-Beautifully-Intense-Fire. Analysts and fans alike wrung their hands in a mixture of disgust, shock and depression for about 48 hours, questioning the underlying ethics and incoming implications of KD’s decision – will we ever wonder who the favorite to win the title is again? Has the formation of the most powerful starting lineup in basketball history been inevitable ever since the 2008 Celtics offseasoned their way to a title? Will Russell Westbrook become so energized that he spontaneously combusts on Nov. 3 at Oracle Arena (when the Thunder and Warriors play for the first time) after dunking on Zaza Pachulia to cap a 12-2 run mid-3rd quarter that brings the OKC Thunder within 2?
Regardless of our well-intentioned queries, this fact remains: Vegas set the Warriors over/under at 66.5 games. That’s 0.5 less than the San Antonio Spurs won last year, yet still rather high considering they were forced to replace Andrew Bogut, Mo Buckets, Leonardo Barbosa and Festus Ezeli with spare parts afforded only by the minimum wage. Additionally, after falling in seven games to a much more physically active, conditioned team in the finals, one must believe Steve Kerr and the man upstairs, Jerry West, will much more consciously rest their stars over the course of the regular season, even if that means suffering losses in games that may have been otherwise won. Finally, while Durant is doubtlessly a unique talent – an elite shooter, whose combination of reach and mobility make him an impossible cover – his implementation into an offense will sacrifice worthwhile chunks of not only what make him effective, but that which made all-stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green household names this past season. Come playoff time, the Warriors will almost certainly be primed for another trip to the finals, but these sacrifices could very well cause regular season strife that will cost the team some gimme games that would’ve been won last year. Verdict: Under
When the Chicago Bulls dealt Derrick Rose’s shell to the New York Knicks, nostalgia set in. Rose’s career mirrors that of Penny Hardaway’s – a fantastically explosive guard who could bend the entire defense at will thanks to his otherworldly athleticism, grounded by knees that couldn’t quite grasp the rest of the body’s transcendental makeup. It was the right move. The Bulls bamboozled Phil Jackson into giving them Robin Lopez, a cheaper, healthier, better-haired version of Joakim Noah’s shell, and Bulls fans remorsefully recognized the end of one of the modern NBA’s great what-ifs and waited for their next move.
Two weeks later, embattled assist-hunter Rajon Rondo was signed to a two-year contract. In a lesser-known, equally distressing move, sharpshooter Mike Dunleavy was traded to the LeBron’s. “Ok,” Bulls fans thought. “Maybe this will work. Two guards (the other being Jimmy Butler) who don’t particularly enjoy shooting 3’s in today’s 3-happy game? We must be employing a very advanced form of basketball reverse psychology that is too nuanced for the other 29 teams and their overly critical fans to understand.”
In a shocking move a week later, Dwayne Wade became a Bull. If I were a Bulls fan, I would’ve been ecstatic for about 2 and a half minutes. “Dwayne Wade himself! Aw, yeah, suck it Heat fans! He’ll tutor Jimmy, and with an IQ like his married to Rondo’s savant-like vision, our offense will be too funky to handle. I wonder how Coach Hoiberg will utilize Dwayne and Rondo in his free-flowing, ball-movement oriented fast-break offense? Oh wait, Pau went to the Spurs? Everyone is laughing at us?” At this juncture Bulls fans crumpled in agony, their myopic delusion likely their final fond memory of the Bulls for years to come. To add insult to injury, Vegas predicts 38.5 wins this year, 3.5 less than last and good for 12th in the Eastern Conference. Keep your chin up Bulls fans. Somewhere Tom Thibedou is chuckling softly, drinking a glass of whiskey in the freezing cold while Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins practice their 360 windmills. Verdict: … Under?
The Celtics are quickly becoming everyone’s favorite League Pass team. Brad Stevens may already be a top five basketball mind, and Al Horford is a legitimate star who can relieve Isaiah Thomas’ offensive burden while bolstering a defense that features the unflappable Avery Bradley, plus Swiss army knife Jae Crowder. The Celtics won 48 games last year, and while they fell to the more seasoned Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs, all the time Danny Ainge spent stockpiling assets is manifesting itself into a team Vegas considers second best in the Eastern Conference (following the LeBron’s), predicted to win 51.5 games. These guys are about as hungry as a bunch of 25-year-old millionaires can be following their first round exit, and Horford will only serve to further catalyze their ascent into the elite. Verdict: Over
I’m not usually inclined to slander, so believe me when I say that the Vegas-clone who predicted the Houston Rockets would win a measly 41.5 games must have had one too many before coming into work. Following a disappointing year discolored by The Cancer formerly known as Dwight Howard, the Rockets added second-option extraordinaire Ryan Anderson and natural-born scorer Eric Gordon, not to mention Nene, who is still a quality NBA center that can graciously mentor Clint “The Freak” Capella and Tyler Ennis, a solid backup point guard siphoned from the Milwaukee Bucks for Michael Beasley. Many aver our 2014-2015 western conference finals team was an apparition, citing an obscure statistic that suggests our opposition missed open shots at a higher rate vs. the Rockets than any other team (that sounds extremely made up). While my lawyers discuss this statistic’s validity, an indisputable truth is that James Harden is a top five player finally surrounded by good outside shooting, and an offensive genius of a coach who realizes the importance of maintaining a consistent rotation (good freaking riddance, JB Bicketstaff.) This being said, I strongly disagree with any prediction that puts a team with James Harden and a cast of at least semi-competent basketball players on the same level as the Minnesota Timberwolves. Verdict: Over