2018-19 NBA playoff projections: LeBron gets Lakers top-three seed in West; Raptors fend off Celtics to top East

LeBron James shifted the dynamics of the NBA when he decided to head West to join the Los Angeles Lakers -- not only does the Western Conference landscape look different, but his departure from the Cavs also shakes up the power structure out East. The questions on everyone's mind are: How good does LeBron make the Lakers, and who takes the Cavs' place as the top dog in the Eastern Conference?

Luckily, SportsLine's projection model can help answer those questions for us as we await the start of the 2018-19 season. SportsLine data scientist Stephen Oh ran simulations to determine each team's projected win total, then compared that to the over/unders provided by Vegas sportsbooks. As you'll see, in some cases the difference was staggering.

One of the biggest surprises was LeBron taking the Lakers from 35 wins last season all the way to 50, and another was the Toronto Raptors beating the odds to keep the No. 1 seed despite the lofty expectations for the Boston Celtics. Two teams from the West -- the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Portland Trail Blazers -- were also bumped out of the playoffs.

Below we've listed the 16 teams that are projected to make the 2018-19 NBA playoffs, along with notes from Oh on why each team ended up where it did.

Eastern ConferenceVegas LineSportsLine Projection

(1) Toronto Raptors

55

58.7

(2) Boston Celtics

58.5

56.8

(3) Philadelphia 76ers

54.5

54.0

(4) Indiana Pacers

47.5

49.4

(5) Miami Heat

41.5

43.0

(6) Milwaukee Bucks

47

41.6

(7) Detroit Pistons

38.5

39.6

(8) Washington Wizards

44.5

39.3

Next in line: Brooklyn Nets (33.7), New York Knicks (33.5), Orlando Magic (32.1)

Oh's notes:

  • Raptors: On paper, a 59-win team added a top-five player when healthy (Kawhi Leonard), which is why they are still No. 1 in the East.
  • Celtics: Adding Gordon Hayward helps depth, but doesn't really make a huge impact because it results in fewer minutes/touches for Jayson Tatum.
  • 76ers: Team will continue to ascend.
  • Pacers: Showed they were nearly as good as the Cavs with LeBron, and with LeBron out of the division they should pick up more wins that last season.
  • Heat: More of the same.
  • Bucks: They allowed slightly more than they averaged last season so their 44 wins was a little aberrant.
  • Pistons: If they could stay healthy then they could be a 45-win team, but the model is assuming Blake Griffin, et al will not be playing more than 70 games.
  • Wizards: Dwight Howard has not been associated with a positive impact, especially in terms of building team chemistry.
  • Nets: Both Vegas and the projection see a significant improvement for the Nets.
  • Knicks: The projection has a strong over for the Knicks and improvement, but not enough to be a playoff contender.
  • Magic: Orlando's improvement is leading the East in terms of win total, with its defense projected to allow 106.9 points per game (an improvement from 108.2 last season).
Western ConferenceVegas LineSportsLine Projection

(1) Golden State Warriors

62.5

62.1

(2) Houston Rockets

55.0

53.3

(3) L.A. Lakers

48.5

50.2

(4) Oklahoma City Thunder

50.0

48.2

(5) Denver Nuggets

47.5

47.7

(6) Utah Jazz

49.0

47.6

(7) San Antonio Spurs

44.5

47.1

(8) New Orleans Pelicans

45.5

46.9

Next in line: Minnesota Timberwolves (43.6), Portland Trail Blazers (41.1), Dallas Mavericks (38.9)

Oh's notes:

  • Warriors: The team didn't need DeMarcus Cousins to exceed last season's 58 wins.
  • Rockets: Two of the most improved teams (Mavericks and Grizzlies) are in the division, and swapping Carmelo Anthony for Trevor Ariza results in a major drop in wins.
  • Lakers: LeBron is lifting the Lakers to 15 more wins, and over the Vegas line of 48.5 wins.
  • Thunder: The Thunder's projected points allowed is 103.3 -- an improvement from 104.4 -- which helps them maintain, but not improve on 48 wins.
  • Nuggets: The Nuggets not only are projected to make the playoffs, but they are also expected to compete for home-court advantage.
  • Jazz: Improvement by the Thunder and Nuggets within the division keeps Utah at 48 wins.
  • Spurs: If they could have held on to Kawhi they would be at 54 wins. Losing Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker did not hurt their projection.
  • Pelicans: They had a better record without Cousins, and Julius Randle is projected to be a nice complement to Anthony Davis.
  • Timberwolves: They are projected to score fewer points (107.9 vs. 109.5) with more West teams improving defensively.
  • Trail Blazers: While he's not worth eight wins, losing Ed Davis and adding another guard, Seth Curry, did not help the team.
  • Mavericks: Luka Doncic is a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, and DeAndre Jordan helps make last season's worst rebounding team average.

Which team should you back to win the NBA title, and which teams will fall well short of their projected win totals? Join SportsLine today and get projected scores and stats from 10,000 simulations, plus get Vegas expert picks, fantasy advice and much more! Use promo code KICKOFF to get your first month for only $1!  

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