One-hundred and fifty-two days of basketball, and the Southeast Division is still a mess.
It’s four-horse race between the Magic, Hornets, Heat and Wizards, or should we say, a one-legged dash to the finish to determine who’ll get swept in the first round of the playoffs.
While a potential Magic/Bucks match up doesn’t sound exciting, fortunately the Southeast Division market more than makes up for it. Now is the time to cash-in on some pretty wide odds, but with all four contending teams looking tough to figure out, who’s worth riding with less than two months remaining?
Here’s a detailed look at each team and their odds in this week’s NBA Futures Forecast.
- To Win the Southeast: $2.50
The Magic have been a tease for most of the season. One moment Orlando are capable of beating teams like Boston, San Antonio and Philadelphia – the next, they lose to the Bulls and the Knicks in the span of four days.
Statistically speaking the Magic aren’t anything special. They’ve scored the fifth-fewest points-per-game this season and shot just 45% from the field all year. But where they have the advantage over the rest of the division is in strength of schedule. According to Tankathon.com, Orlando have the fifth easiest run home with games against the Knicks, Cavs (twice), Hawks (twice) and the Grizzlies yet to come. Their toughest opponents range from the Sixers (twice) and the Warriors.
Offensively the Magic need to find a way to close out games. From a betting perspective they’ve been one of the best sides to back against the first quarter spread, earning an overall 36-22-1 record. In the fourth quarter however, the Magic rank third-last in points scored, an alarming statistic considering Nikola Vucevic has been a Top 5 mid-range shooter all year.
On defence things don’t look much better, and it’s worth noting Orlando’s bench is averaging only 35.8 points a game. At some point General Manager John Hammond has to take a long hard look and wonder if it’s worth heading to the playoffs. Can the season really be labeled a success if Orlando wind up cannon fodder against the Bucks in the first round? Sticking to the long term rebuild plan and securing a better draft pick is probably the smarter way to go.
Kemba Walker looks to return to the playoffs after losing a Game 7 to the Heat in 2016.
- To Win the Southeast: $3.00
At least the Hornets have one thing going for them: they have a winning record at home. Charlotte have been a frustrating play all season, covering the spread just 48% of the time. But just like last season, the Hornets remain a great value play at home in the Spectrum Center.
So far this season the Hornets have defeated teams like the Kings and Nuggets at home, but their woes on the road continue to keep them below .500. Through the entire month of February Charlotte won on the road just once, while their 38-point loss to the Magic in Orlando a fortnight ago highlights just how far away this team is from being competitive in the playoffs.
Aside from Kemba Walker, who is posting career-high numbers in points and rebounds, there’s not a lot else going on. Walker is the third-best fourth quarter scorer in the league, but that hardly makes up for Charlotte’s struggles down low. The Hornets have scored the 10th fewest points in the paint this season, surprising considering they rank eighth in offensive rebounds.
Despite hanging tight with the Rockets to close out the month, things won’t get any easier for James Borrego’s side. Charlotte still have to travel to Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Houston, Washington, Miami, Toronto, Los Angeles and Oracle over the coming month, earning them the third toughest strength of schedule with 22 games to go.
- To Win the Southeast: $3.30
Miami’s inspiring run of late has them looking a little under the odds at this price. The Heat, who have typically been dreadful at home, pulled off a season-defining win over the Warriors this week to keep themselves in the playoff hunt.
Wins like that are great, but there’s no denying the low-points for Miami this season. Prior to the Golden State success, Miami lost at home to the Suns, adding to their awful 11-18 record in front of their hometown fans. On the road however, Miami have been a different story. They are one of four teams to hold a better record on the road than at home, largely thanks to a defence that has flown under the radar for most of the season.
The Heat have not only allowed the third-fewest points this year, they’ve also allowed the third-lowest field-goal percentage. You can chalk much of that up to Hassan Whiteside, who ranks second behind Giannis Antetokounmpo in overall defensive rating.
Really, this has been a team effort though. Miami’s bench is averaging the sixth-most points in close to 20 minutes on the floor, and even though they face the seventh-toughest remaining schedule, this is still a team made up of playoff caliber experience capable of pushing a top seed team to seven games in the first round. Can you think of a better way to send off Dwyane Wade?
Bradley Beal currently ranks 12th in the league in points-per-game.
Washington find themselves just seven games out of the eighth seed. It’s a big ask for a team lacking star power, but it’s doable when you peak at Washington’s easy looking schedule.
The Wizards will face the Nuggets, Celtics and Jazz, all twice, over their remaining 22 games. They’ve won just three of their last 10, so it’s doubtful we see a miracle turnaround, but this is still a team that ranks fifth in assists and eighth in points-per-game, so for the sake of fun, let’s just toy with the idea.
At home the Wizards are 17-12, and they just so happen to have the Magic, Hornets and Heat all coming to town over the next month. Washington also squares off against nine teams sitting below .500 through March and April – the Knicks (twice), the Bulls (twice), the Wolves (twice), as well as the Grizzlies, Lakers and Suns. Defensively Washington has some work to do, but if the rest of the division falters, relying on a 20.0 points-per-game player like Bradley Beal could see them finish the second half strongly.