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What is the defining characteristic of the Southeast division? That question isn't rhetorical, I'm genuinely asking. The Atlantic Division is stocked with the East's big-market blue bloods. The Central Division hosted Michael Jordan and LeBron James for most of their careers, and a number of the rivalries sprouted up around them. The Southeast division... well, there's not exactly a proper end to that sentence. It's where the East slapped its spares.

That makes for a division that rarely finds itself at the center of the NBA world, which suits us just fine from a betting perspective. After all, the public nature of teams like the Celtics, Nets and 76ers invariably affects their odds. That's not going to be as true for the Hornets and Magic. In the Southeast we're getting a much purer distillation of what Vegas and the betting market expect out of the teams in question, and that's going to make our job in picking over/unders a little bit easier.

All odds via Caesar's Sportsbook

*Pythagorean Wins represent the number of games a team would be expected to win based on their point-differential

Miami Heat

2021-22 Wins

53

2021-22 Pythagorean Wins

54

2022-23 Win Total Line

48.5

The pick: Under 48.5

Miami is known for big-game hunting in the offseason, but despite rumors surrounding Kevin Durant and Donovan Mitchell, the Heat didn't wind up adding a single external veteran to their roster. P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris left. No. 27 pick Nikola Jovic and a number of undrafted rookies joined the team in his place. That's the extent of their offseason changes. This is functionally the same team Miami had last season, minus Tucker.

That's a pretty sizable loss as Miami has no obvious replacement at power forward. Barring a training camp standout emerging, that leaves Erik Spoelstra with two options: go ultra small with someone like Caleb Martin or Max Strus at power forward, or go ultra big with Bam Adebayo at power forward next to either DeWayne Dedmon or Omer Yurtseven at center. This is the Heat we're talking about, so odds are, they're going to discover someone we've never heard of that can give them 20 competent minutes, but it's hard to imagine that player outshining Tucker.

The more pressing concern here are the core players. Kyle Lowry is 36. Jimmy Butler has missed between 15 and 23 games five years in a row now, and with his own 33rd birthday now in the rearview mirror, it feels pretty safe to assume he won't play 70 games ever again. Victor Oladipo hasn't played 70 games in the past three seasons combined. There's plenty of youth here to theoretically offset some of the aging and injuries, but it's worth noting that Strus, Yurtseven, Gabe Vincent and Tyler Herro are all playing for contracts. This looks like a season of change for Miami.

It's not dissimilar to the 2020-21 campaign in which the Heat followed up a Finals berth with a 40-32 record that translated to less than 46 wins across a typical 82-game schedule. The Heat finished that season on an 18-8 run and may have made some playoff noise with a more favorable bracket, but the accumulation of age, injuries and depth questions weighed them down across the entire regular season. A somewhat similar campaign in which the Heat get off to a slow start, deal with injuries and then become the play-in team nobody wants to face feels like their likeliest outcome.

Is this the best way to bet on this team? Maybe

This feels relatively straightforward. If you're low on the Heat, you can get them at +230 to participate in the play-in round at Caesar's. That's significantly better value than taking their under, and if they do go under, it probably means they're in range for the play-in. However, if you're high on the Heat, there's no similar value play. The Heat are favored to win the Southeast Division at -160. Either side of their win total is sitting at -115, but betting their total does not force you to take a side on the Hawks as betting their division would. There is no reason to bet on them to make the playoffs, as Caesar's is offering just -1200 on them to do so. Therefore, your best course of action if you believe in Miami is just to take the over.

Atlanta Hawks

2021-22 Wins

43

2021-22 Pythagorean Wins

46

2022-23 Win Total Line

46.5

The pick: Over 46.5

There are two primary reasons the Hawks have lost basketball games over the past four years:

  • Defense. The Hawks have ranked 18th, 26th and 28th twice defensively since drafting Trae Young.
  • Backup point guard play. Atlanta's offense scored 10 fewer points per 100 possessions when Young went to the bench last season. That gap actually shrunk from 13.8 points during the 2020-21 season and astonishing 15.5 points the year before that.

Adding Dejounte Murray goes a long way towards fixing both weaknesses. Murray is the best point-of-attack defender the Hawks have had during the Young era, and as both he and DeAndre Hunter are big enough and versatile enough to cover multiple positions, Nate McMillan can safely hide Young on virtually any perimeter player. Throw in some more Onyeka Okongwu minutes and while the Hawks probably won't be great defensively, they'll almost certainly post their highest ranking since landing Young. To be fair, 18th isn't an especially high bar.

If the Hawks can just get to average defensively, they're going to push for 50 wins. That's because Young, by himself, practically guarantees a top-10 offense. The Hawks have finished ninth and second over the past two seasons, but even before the Hawks leapt into the postseason, they were scoring at an elite rate during Young's minutes. For example, the Hawks ranked 25th overall in offense during the 2019-20 season, but the 111.2 points per 100 possessions they scored with Young on the floor would have placed them 13th. That was his second season in the NBA. This is going to be his fifth.

And in some ways, it's set up to be a bit of a breakout campaign for Young. Everyone knows what he can do with the ball in his hands, but with Murray as a secondary ball-handler, he's going to have more of an opportunity to show off what he can do without it. He's never been Stephen Curry as a mover, but remember, he just shot over 48 percent on catch-and-shoot 3's last season. The issue is that he practically never got to take them on an offense that needed him to create everything. Murray eases some of that burden. Even if his own limitations as a shooter clog the floor a bit for Young in the pick-and-roll, the benefits more than outweigh the drawbacks.

As long as you believe that Murray, coming off of an All-Star season, can safely lead Atlanta's bench units, then you should be picking the Hawks to win at least 47 games. San Antonio won Murray's minutes by 1.9 points per 100 possessions a season ago, and the sort of players he shared the court with there aren't dissimilar from Atlanta's reserves from a talent perspective. If he can keep the Hawks at a similar level, they're going to have their best season of the Young era.

Is this the best way to bet on this team? No

If you like the Hawks? Grab their Southeast Division odds at +170. If you don't? You can still get better odds on them to be in the play-in round (+120) than to go under (-115). I'll admit, there's also a part of me that's eyeing their No. 1 seed odds at +1800. The formula here fits for the Hawks to be a worse version of the 2018 Rockets: one elite ball-handler on the floor at all times paired with a surprisingly effective defense. Atlanta won't approach the 65 games Houston won that season, but remember, the No. 1 seed in the East last season won only 53 games. Atlanta's best-case outcome is probably in that range, and Boston and Brooklyn are already dealing with internal issues before the season has even begun. I don't think the Hawks are going to get the No. 1 seed, but at 18-to-1, it's easy enough to picture a world in which Joel Embiid and Khris Middleton miss games and suddenly a path is clear. I'm leaning against betting it myself, but it's not crazy.

Charlotte Hornets

2021-22 Wins

43

2021-22 Pythagorean Wins

42

2022-23 Win Total Line

35.5

The pick: Under 35.5

We are assuming, for the time being, that Miles Bridges is not going to play for Charlotte this season. Even under those circumstances, the Hornets are probably going to surprise people in the minutes LaMelo Ball plays with the starters. While helpful, Bridges has never been especially essential to the success of those lineups. The Hornets had a +3.7 net rating when Ball played without Bridges a season ago, according to Cleaning the Glass, and Ball lineups featuring Bridges were 2.2 points worse per 100 possessions than those that didn't include him in Ball's rookie season. 

The two obviously fit together theoretically. Pair a high-flyer like Bridges with a playmaker like Ball and highlights are going to come. But what you're seeing in those minutes is another mouth for Ball to feed. His usage is already quite low by All-Star standards, clocking in at roughly the same percentage Reggie Jackson's did. Higher-usage Ball is typically going to benefit the Hornets. If his improvement continues unimpeded, he should have a huge year.

Yet I'm still taking the under for a few reasons. First, the non-LaMelo minutes are going to be a disaster. That is where Bridges was really essential as a play-finisher for Charlotte's lesser ball-handlers and, especially last season, an extra secondary shot-creator. Charlotte lineups with neither Ball or Bridges got blasted by almost nine points per 100 possessions last season, and Gordon Hayward's age- and injury-related regression is only going to make those minutes more precarious. 

And then there are the defensive issues inherent in losing your most athletic wing. Bridges isn't exactly a stopper and the combination of Kelly Oubre and P.J. Washington gives the Hornets a fair bit of lineup flexibility, but remember, the Hornets just finished 22nd in defense. They aren't exactly positioned to lose players, especially since, for the 900th year in a row, they've failed to add a legitimate rim-protector at center.

Is this the best way to bet on this team? Yes

I say "yes" only in that there's no other bet on the board I like for the Hornets. I wouldn't bet this either. Steve Clifford has too strong a defensive track record. Ball has too much upside. There are just too many ways for either side of this bet to go wrong for me to credibly suggest putting money on it. So my pick is under, but my advice is to avoid the Hornets.

Washington Wizards

2021-22 Wins

35

2021-22 Pythagorean Wins

31

2022-23 Win Total Line

35.5

The pick: Over 35.5

Nothing the Wizards does makes sense in the context of competing for a championship or even sniffing the second round... but if you're looking for an organization that's going to stumble upon respectability year after year? Then do I have the team for you. The Wizards won 35 games a year ago despite getting:

  • 40 Games out of Bradley Beal, and 40 bad games at that. He's probably not shooting 30 percent on 3's again this season.
  • The 44 worst games of Spencer Dinwiddie's career. No veteran starting point guard should come close to 38 percent from the field. Monte Morris will likely be a good deal better.
  • Only 42 games out of Rui Hachimura, who was dealing with a personal issue for much of the season.
  • Seventeen games out of trade deadline acquisition Kristaps Porzingis. Okay... it's hard to expect too much more on this front.

The Wizards had a first-year head coach, significant roster turnover, career-worst performances from a number of players and injuries across the board... and they still nearly hit this over. Whether you like the roster or the organizational direction in a macro sense doesn't mean all that much here. The Wizards simply do not tank. They've won at least 28 games (or the 82-game equivalent in shortened seasons) for more than a decade straight.

That streak feels relatively safe just given the volume of NBA-caliber players on this roster. If Beal is out? Morris, Will Barton, Deni Avdija and Delon Wright are all still available in the backcourt. Porzingis needs to sit for a month? Just slide per-minute megastar Daniel Gafford into his slot and keep Taj Gibson warm for his inevitable foul trouble. It isn't exactly advisable to build a roster around seventh men, but the Wizards have one, and the primary benefit of doing so is that it insulates them against the rigors of the regular season. They're rarely going to be terrible. They're going to stack wins against bad teams. All of the same questions that exist about their future today will still be asked a year from now, but it won't be because this group won 19 games and gave Tommy Shepherd a lottery pick. 

Is this the best way to bet on this team? No

If you're a Wizards believer, I'd consider Washington at +175 to make the play-in round if only because their history suggests that if they're healthy and close, they're going to give up draft capital for an upgrade at the deadline. It's pretty hard to miss the play-in when you're really trying to make it. Two-thirds of the league has to finish in the top 20. 

Orlando Magic

2021-22 Wins

22

2021-22 Pythagorean Wins

19

2022-23 Win Total Line

27.5

The pick: Over 27.5

I agonized over this line. All conventional wisdom screams "bet against the young team that might tank for the generational prospect." Somebody has to finish at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, and after Detroit's veteran additions, there aren't many candidates. But in the end, I simply couldn't find enough reasons to think the Magic will lose a lot of games beyond the obvious thought that they'd probably prefer to lose a lot of games.

The biggest reason young teams tend to lose is defense, but the Magic weren't horrendous defensively last season. It tracks considering their personnel. Jalen Suggs, despite being a rookie, ranked fourth among point guards in FiveThirtyEight's Defensive RAPTOR WAR. Franz Wagner was above-average at small forward by the same metric. Both stand to improve merely by not being rookies. Jonathan Isaac, a former All-Defense candidate, is set to return after missing the past two seasons. Wendell Carter Jr. made significant strides a season ago. This is not your typical group of clueless youngsters. They've already shown promise on defense. They'd have to be terrible offensively to hit this under even if their defense remains where it was.

And yes, the Magic did rank 29th offensively a season ago. They're going to be fairly low again this season, even with Paolo Banchero presumably posting impressive counting stats. The bar here is just so obscenely low that clearing it need only involve modest improvements from other youngsters. Suggs was a disaster offensively as a rookie. He was also one of the engines of one of the greatest college offenses ever. He's not going to shoot 36/21/77 again because, putting aside his status as a No. 4 overall pick, nobody shoots that badly twice. That there's a reasonable amount of cumulative shooting here helps as well. Both Orlando centers can credibly make 3's. Wagner and Banchero can as well. There's going to be a reasonable amount of space for the guards to work with.

The Magic aren't blasting beyond this mark. The play-in isn't awaiting them. But the floor here seems high enough to predict 28-30 wins. Competent defense and the No. 1 overall pick leading the offense makes another aggressive tank more difficult. 

Is this the best way to bet on this team? Yes

The East is too deep for the Magic to compete for the play-in. The West is too thin for the Magic to compete for the NBA's worst record. The win total line is the only middle ground here. I don't feel especially confident in this pick and wouldn't advise putting money on it, but if you have strong feelings on the Magic, the win total is where to bet them.