Written October 15th 2019
21.co.uk's 2019/20 NBA Season Preview
The 2019/20 NBA season is just around the corner, so now is a perfect time to take a look ahead at the upcoming season as a whole, dissecting the aims and ambitions of each of the 30 teams, as well as how we actually expect them to perform. Whether you’re an online betting aficionado, or new to the world of basketball betting, we’ll do our best to have you covered all season long with our betting tips from our resident pundit.
How Does the NBA Season Work?
The NBA hardly has the easiest format to follow for its domestic season, so let us explain it a little. The 30 teams are split between two Conferences; Eastern and Western. Each of those is then split into three Divisions consisting of 5 teams. The Eastern Conference features the Atlantic, Central, and Southeast Divisions. Meanwhile, the Western Conference is made up of the Northwest, Pacific, and Southwest Divisions.
Each team plays 82 games over the course of the regular season, 41 home and 41 away. An individual team plays opposition from their own Division four times (16 games). They also play the other teams in their Conference either four times (6 teams, for a total of 24 games) or three times (4 teams, for a total of 12 games). Lastly, they also play each team in the other Conference twice, home and away (30 games).
The top 8 teams in the Conference then advance to the playoffs, where a series of best-of-7 ties are played out; the first round, Conference semi-finals, Conference Finals, and lastly the NBA Finals, which pits the two winners of the Conference Finals against one another. The winner of the NBA Finals becomes the reigning league champion, who are currently Toronto Raptors.
Below is a breakdown of where each team will play in the 2019/20 NBA Season:
|Atlantic Division||Central Division||Southeast Division|
|Boston Celtics||Chicago Bulls||Atlanta Hawks|
|Brooklyn Nets||Cleveland Cavaliers||Charlotte Hornets|
|New York Knicks||Detroit Pistons||Miami Heat|
|Philadelphia 76ers||Indiana Pacers||Orlando Magic|
|Toronto Raptors||Milwaukee Bucks||Washington Wizards|
|Northwest Division||Pacific Division||Southwest Division|
|Denver Nuggets||Golden State Warriors||Dallas Mavericks|
|Minnesota Timberwolves||Los Angeles Clippers||Houston Rockets|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||Los Angeles Lakers||Memphis Grizzlies|
|Portland Trail Blazers||Phoenix Suns||New Orleans Pelicans|
|Utah Jazz||Sacramento Kings||San Antonio Spurs|
NBA enthusiasts will already recognise most - if not all - of these teams, but those in the UK with a passing interest in basketball will probably at least know of the likes of LA Lakers, Golden State Warriors, and - following their 2019 success - Toronto Raptors. But are they the teams that will challenge for the NBA title in 2020, or are there a few names under the radar?
Here at 21.co.uk, we’ve spent the past few weeks painstakingly arranging the teams into the order we’ll predict they’ll finish within their Division and also their respective Conference. Below, we’ll break down the teams we think are the biggest contenders for the NBA crown, those with an outside chance, and the also-rans, along with some helpful basketball betting tips.
The Main Challengers
There are many teams you would expect to comfortably qualify for the play-offs, and from then on an element of luck takes hold. Last season, Toronto Raptors stunned everyone by securing the NBA title, despite only finishing second in the Eastern Conference. A lot of people are expecting them to be in with a shout of doing it again, but once you factor in that they’ve lost a couple of key players while other sides have strengthened, it could be a tough ask. So who are the main challengers for the 2020 NBA title?
Houston Rockets are generally considered to have strengthened well this offseason, and at 21.co.uk we expect them to emerge as winners of the Southwest Division. Not only that, we’re backing them to win the entire Western Conference, and you can do the same at (9/2. As for the Eastern Conference, don’t be too surprised if Milwaukee Bucks can match last year’s success and finish at the summit. They boast the league’s MVP in their ranks, although more on that a bit later. With odds of (6/4) we certainly think there’s some value to be had with that prediction, although whether or not they can win the NBA proper is a matter of some debate, to say the least.
Elsewhere, both LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets are two of just six teams to have never before appeared in the NBA Finals, but they could really have a chance this time around. Two-time champion and MVP, Kawhi Leonard, has traded the Raptors for the Clippers, and bringing in small-forward Paul George from the Thunder has further bolstered their options. For the Nuggets, it’s fair to say they’ve relied upon team collectiveness more than raw talent, but there’s a niggling feeling that they could really upset the odds and challenge the more established sides this year. They’ll push the Rockets all the way in the Western Conference in our opinion, and could be worth a punt at (10/1) to win the WC, or (16/1) to win the NBA Finals.
However, none of the above are our overall pick to win the NBA Finals this season, with that prestigious honour going to Philadelphia 76ers. This, despite the fact that we think they’ll only finish as runners-up in the Eastern Conference regular season. However, the NBA often encapsulates the idea of being a marathon, not a sprint, with many examples of teams performing better in the playoffs than in the regular season. You only need to look to the Raptors last season for evidence of that. This would be the 76ers first Championship since 1983, and their first Finals appearance since 2001.
Speaking of the Raptors, there are some big names amongst the teams we think have an outside shot at glory, including the reigning champions. We’ve already mentioned that they’ve lost some important players and that their task will certainly be a lot more difficult this time around, but it’s not impossible that they could challenge again. But who are the other sides that we expect to have a strong season, with some great winning potential?
Well, first up we have Indiana Pacers, who are probably the second-best team in the Central Division. We’re backing them to finish third in the Eastern Conference, and with a bit of luck, they could certainly challenge in the playoffs. They’ve got some talented young players coming through, and with the anticipated return of Victor Oladipo following knee surgery, there’s going to be a sense of optimism around the Pacers. Brooklyn Nets are in a similar situation, and will be challenging the Raptors and the 76ers in the Atlantic Division, but will surely make the playoffs, with odds of (12/1) for them to win the Conference play-offs. The Nets may well have the immense Kyrie Irving in their ranks, but with the confirmed absence of Kevin Durant for most if not all of the season, they’ll be relying on luck a lot more than some of their rivals.
The Pacific Division is arguably the most unpredictable, with four California-based teams involved. We’ve spoken about LA Clippers as main challengers for the NBA crown, but what about their Staples Center rivals the Lakers? They’ve finally managed to nab some of their long-term targets, such as Anthony Davis, who will be a crucial partner to LeBron James. Joining them is Danny Green, who brings a wealth of experience, having won the title with San Antonio Spurs in 2014, and the Raptors last year. They’ve kept hold of promising youngster Kyle Kuzma, although the unfortunate injury to new signing DeMarcus Cousins means they’ll be reliant on the main three mentioned above.
Cousins’ injury problems also hampered his chances with a previous club, Golden State Warriors. The Warriors made it to the NBA Finals last year, ultimately losing 4-2 to Toronto Raptors. In fact, they’ve made it to the Finals for each of the past five years, winning three of those, including back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018, both against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Over that time, it’s tough to argue against the idea that the Warriors have rejuvenated the NBA with innovation and a fresh approach, but with other teams taking a similar approach and arming themselves with stronger rosters, this could be an underwhelming season for them for the first time in a long time. Their own loss of Kevin Durant is also likely to be a key factor. The Warriors will undoubtedly have a chance of winning the Western Conference at (8/1), but at 21.co.uk, we’d back the LA Clippers.
The Best of the Rest
To complete our round-up of how we think the various teams will perform this coming season, it’s only fair that we talk about all the sides that we think will make the playoffs, even if their chances of overall success will be slim, to say the least. We’ve looked at five from each Conference so far, which means that there are six more teams to talk about in total, although we’ll quickly give honourable mentions to Miami Heat, and New Orleans Pelicans who we think will just miss out on the play-offs.
So let’s start with the Western Conference. Portland Trail Blazers have strengthened well on the defensive side of things, in particular with Kent Bazemore, and they have a few young players that could be ready to make the step up. The Trail Blazers finished third in the Conference last season, ultimately making it to the Conference Finals, where they lost the series to Golden State Warriors. There’s optimism that they can pull of a similar feat, but for us, they’re also-rans. Joining them in that category are Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs. The Jazz have slowly been developing season-on-season, but this year represents a good opportunity to establish themselves as challengers, boasting one of the rosters with the most depth in the league. Meanwhile, the Spurs have made the playoffs in 39 of the past 44 seasons, so you can never rule them out.
Finally, our three other predicted playoff qualifiers in the Eastern Conference; Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic, and Detroit Pistons. Let’s get the Pistons out of the way first, they’re unpredictable at best, and abysmal at their worst. Two play-off berths for them in the past decade and both of those being 8th placed finishes tell you all you need to know about them being genuine contenders, in spite of the impressive performances of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. It’s a similar situation for the Magic in our view. Following years of finishing dangerously close to the bottom of the Conference, they made it to 7th last year and will be looking to do the same again. To that effect, they’ve retained their core players, chiefly the strong, 7ft tall, Nikola Vucevic, and the resilient D.J Augustin.
Lastly, we have the NBA’s most successful team, with 17 Championship titles, Boston Celtics. They’re generally in and around the contenders to win the Eastern Conference, so readers may be surprised to learn that we’ve put them down to finish 4th in the Atlantic Division, albeit 6th in the Conference overall. This is largely down to the loss of Kyrie Irving to the Nets, and Al Horford to Philadelphia 76ers. The Celtics have a loyal following, and could certainly cause an upset in the playoffs, but we still think the 76ers will be the winners of the Eastern Conference when all is said and done.
It’s not just the teams that get the plaudits though, as there are two highly-prestigious main NBA end-of-season awards that are fought for. The first is the ‘Most Valuable Player’, or ‘MVP’. Quite often, it is not awarded to a player from the Championship winning team. In fact, only four of the 19 MVPs since the year 2000 have been from the winning side. Giannis Antetokounmpo won it last year while playing for Eastern Conference runners-up Milwaukee Bucks. You can get odds of [(13/5) for him to do it again.
Elsewhere, James Harden of Houston Rockets won the award in 2018 and is (11/2) this time around. Those same odds apply to Steph Curry of Golden State Warriors, who won the award in consecutive years in 2015 and 2016. Big names such as LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Kyrie Irving are always in with a chance, but in our opinion, Anthony Davis will be key over the course of LA Lakers’ season.
Rookie of the Year Winner
The other main award is for the ‘Rookie of the Year’. Awarded to the best performing newcomer to the NBA, this one is harder to predict who will be in the running. Zion Williamson was the number 1 draft pick this summer, gleefully snapped up by New Orleans Pelicans, and will have a point to prove. Ja Morant of Memphis Grizzlies and RJ Barrett of New York Knicks were the second and third draft picks respectively.
However, it’s not always the top-drafted rookies that win the award, with 2017 winner Malcolm Brogdon - then of Milwaukee Bucks - coming out victorious despite being the 36th pick in the draft. It’s unlikely to go that far down the picks this time, but it’s worth noting that Denver Nuggets’ Michael Porter Jr. is still eligible for the honour, despite being drafted 14th in 2018-19. That’s because he didn’t actually feature for Denver last season due to injury, so still falls under the bracket of ‘rookie’, making him perhaps worth a punt at (13/1). For us though, Atlanta Hawks man De’Andre Hunter is a solid alternative to favourite Zion Williamson.
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