NBA win total picks: Why Cavaliers are trending up in Central Division, Bulls trending down


Ah, the Central Division, better known as the Milwaukee Bucks punching bag. Since Mike Budenholzer took over in 2018, the Bucks have posted a stunning 50-8 record against division rivals. That’s 71 wins against teams in the center and 53 wins against the rest of the league (against whom they won roughly 64 percent of their Budenholzer-managed games). For the past four seasons, the Central Division has been to the Bucks what the West Coast Conference is to Gonzaga: a warm-up for their actual spring games.

But last season the Bulls were half decent! The Cavs have Donovan Mitchell! Cade Cunningham on the road to glory! And the Pacers… are trying their best! Maybe the Bucks are really challenging the division leaders this year. Let’s dive into the over/under lines of the Central Division to find out.

All odds via Caesars Sportsbook.

*Pythagorean wins are the number of games a team is expected to win based on their point difference.

Milwaukee Bucks

2021-22 Wins


2021-22 Pythagorean victories


2022-23 Total wins


Choice: over 52.5.

On paper, the Bucks look like a team on the hunt for a minus. Three of the top four players are in their 30s, as are several key reserves. Their big free agent, Joe Ingles, won’t be ready until the middle of the season. Chris Middleton will not be ready for the premiere. They’ve already won the championship and won Game 7 on the road, so it’s not certain they’ll be chasing the seed.

But that line is too low for a team like Milwaukee. The Bucks lost in Budenholzer’s first two years as manager and flirted with him in the next two years, but they didn’t have a particularly clean season in either season. The 2021 championship-winning team spent the regular season revisiting their defensive scheme. The Bucks barely played Brook Lopez last season. Lopez is 34 years old. There is no guarantee that he will stay healthy this season. But Milwaukee is a little better prepared to deal with his potential absence this time around with Serge Ibaka on board for the entire season and starring Sandro Mamukelashvili at EuroBasket.

Teams with multiple MVPs simply don’t win less than 53 games if they’re healthy. LeBron James has won 53 games or more (or the equivalent of 82 games) for eight straight years at his peak. Michael Jordan did this for the last seven years of his career. Tim Duncan didn’t drop below that pace until his 13th season. Stephen Curry reached that mark in six of his seven healthy seasons under Steve Kerr. Even the widely maligned mid-2000s two-time MVP Steve Nash has 54 wins in five of six years. When you have a good player like Giannis Antetokounmpo, you should generally expect to win 53 games or more if the rest of your squad is even remotely acceptable. Milwaukee is. The Bucks don’t really need to win 60 games, but having Giannis means hitting the 50s almost by default.

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

The absence of Middleton and the general age of this roster should scare you away from the chances of Milwaukee’s No. 1 seed. The Bucks are 250 favorites to win the Central Division, and there’s simply no good reason to pay that price for a division bet. By all means, use their championship chances a few weeks into the season when Middleton’s absence inevitably results in a sluggish start, but in terms of the regular season, overall wins are probably your best bet here.

Cleveland Cavaliers

2021-22 Wins


2021-22 Pythagorean victories


2022-23 Total wins


Choice: over 47.5.

The short answer is that last season the Clevelands played at the level of a 48-win team and turned their fifth best player and 11-game man into Donovan Mitchell, so yes, I would suggest betting. Oh, you want a long answer here? OK. We can do this. In short, Cleveland has a surprisingly high floor at both ends of the court.

The big men have a disproportionate responsibility for defense in the regular season. Everyone knows how good the duo of Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen was, but they were both so good individually that Cleveland never experienced a defensive slump when one of them went to the bench. Lineups with Allen and without Mobley ranked in the 66th percentile in defense rankings according to Cleaning the Glass. Swap two and the Cavs are still mid league. Together? They were in the 94th percentile. So yes, they play with two small defenders… but last year’s team did that too. If anything, bigger roles by Isaac Okoro and Dean Wade will likely improve the defense of the supporting cast. Replacing Lauri Markkanen’s defense won’t be too difficult, and Mobley is likely to get better in his second season.

Ball carriers are disproportionately responsible for regular season infractions, and the same basic principle will apply here. Mitchell and Darius Garland would look great together and both should be great off-the-ball threats in an offense able to make the most of those skills. Mitchell had some poor shooting last season, but the year before, he hit about 43% of his three-shot shots. Garland has evolved into one of the NBA’s best long-distance hitters, joining the extremely exclusive 30/30 last season, hitting at least 30 shots from at least 30 feet. How do you protect, say, a Garland-Allen pick-and-roll 30 feet from the rim? Drop bombs and garlands away from the depths. Chase him around the screen and he will rush past you. Blitz and Allen, a surprisingly skilled passer, have a 4-on-3 exit with two other All-Stars as options. Excessive paint help and they just pass it on to Mitchell, one of the best defensemen in basketball at maximizing inconsistencies and advantages.

But the real value of both of them is not what they will do together. This is what they will do separately. Cleveland’s rosters with Garland last season were in the 73rd percentile on offense, but the rosters without him were in the 15th. Well, now these lineups without Garland will be led by an even better shotmaker. Mitchell just led the NBA’s No. 1 offense. Yes, this is an achievement for the whole team, but it is an extremely impressive achievement for any leading defender. Here is a complete list of the #1 offensive ball carriers this century: Mitchell, James Harden (twice), Luka Doncic, Stephen Curry (thrice), Chris Paul (twice), LeBron James, Tony Parker, Carmelo Anthony. , Steve Nash (eight times!), Deron Williams and Kobe Bryant. The takeaway here, besides how underrated Nash was, is that a No. 1 offensive lead essentially means you’re a Hall of Fame level throw maker. Utah’s playoff shortcomings robbed Mitchell of that reputation.

So yes, there are question marks here. We don’t yet know who their fifth starter will be, though Wade, Okoro and Cedi Osman would be good picks. More importantly, it’s not entirely clear how much space they can generate offensively if either Mobley or their small forward struggles to make 3rds. But by and large, this is a relatively solvable problem. Assuming Cleveland stays healthy, he will be above average on both offense and defense with the potential to aim for a top-five finish on either side of the ball depending on what he prioritizes in lineup building. Winning less than 48 games under those circumstances would have been next to impossible.

This is the best way to bet on this team: No

I offer you a menu:

  • Plus-300 to win the Central Division. I would probably pass due to lack of value. As we said, the Bucks are also a high-level team. This can be a smart insurance policy if you’ve been grabbing the bucks to earn the #1 seed and just want to be protected in the event of their worst outcome.
  • Plus-900 to earn first place in the Eastern Conference. Yes, I like it very much. I don’t think it’s particularly likely, but it’s very valuable, especially in relation to these divisional odds. If Cleveland finishes ahead of Milwaukee, there’s a very good chance the Cavs have won 55 games or more and are in contention for the top spot. At least I like it as a small barrier if you choose Philadelphia in the same location.
  • Plus-1400 for JB Bickerstaff to be Trainer of the Year. I pick Mike Malone, but Bickerstaff ticks a lot here. He was ignored last season, just like Monty Williams was two years ago. He is relatively early as head coach. His team is likely to win many games. If Cleveland is as good as I expect, he will be in the spotlight.
  • You will find different adjusted lines in every book, but I really like something in the 50-52 over odds winning range.

The Cavs and the Sixers are the two teams I would recommend playing big in the regular season. Avoid their finals and championship chances because there are too many variables to consider at this point, but Cleveland is the game of the East.

Bulls of Chicago

2021-22 Wins


2021-22 Pythagorean victories


2022-23 Total wins


Choice: less than 42.5.

I am as pessimistic about Chicago as I am optimistic about Cleveland. Let’s discuss the reasons:

  • No one knows when Lonzo Ball will recover. Ball was arguably the second most important Bull last season. Chicago’s entire defensive setup was based on the fact that Ball and Alex Caruso were so good offensively that their weakness in the back line with DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic could be hidden. In addition to being one of Chicago’s top shooters, his main offensive value came through during the transition period. The Bulls finished second in transfer points per game last season, according to Cleaning the Glass, and Ball is one of the NBA’s top playmakers.
  • Speaking of health, Zach LaVine had knee surgery in May, Caruso suffered several injuries last season, and Patrick Williams…