The restart to the NBA season officially begins on July 30 but the sports world had a collective fist bump when news surfaced on Monday that zero players on the Orlando campus tested positive for COVID-19.
Each of the 22 teams in Orlando will play eight games to conclude the regular season. Over/under win totals have been set for each team.
Here are my favorite plays:
Milwaukee Bucks UNDER 6.5 wins (-250)
The Bucks are the overwhelming favorites to win the Eastern Conference (-200 at Westgate Superbook) and for good reason. Despite losing four of five games before the season was suspended, Milwaukee has a 6.5 game lead over the Toronto Raptors for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to repeat as MVP (-5000 at DraftKings Sportsbook), Khris Middleton continues to thrive as Giannis' robin, and Kawhi Leonard is no longer in the East. It would be surprising to me to see any team emerge out of the Eastern Conference aside from the Bucks. That said, I do not think the Bucks will go 7-1 or 8-0 when the season restarts.
The magic number for the Bucks to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs is 2. Meaning two Milwaukee wins, two Toronto losses, or a combination of the two will give the Bucks the number one seed. Milwaukee is scheduled to face the two worst teams in Orlando, Brooklyn and Washington, however the Bucks will also play Boston, Houston, Miami, Dallas, Toronto, and Memphis. With eight games in two weeks, wouldn’t Milwaukee want to rest some of its best players (Giannis, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe) after it locks up the top seed in the Eastern Conference?
Yes, the juice is high at -250 but I would be shocked if Milwaukee won seven or eight games in Orlando. The Bucks have more important plans, like winning the franchise's first championship since 1971.
Portland Trail Blazers OVER 3.5 wins (+120)
If you read my column on who will emerge as the eight seed in the Western Conference, this play should not come as a surprise. Like Charles Barkley, I am bullish on the Trail Blazers. In addition to the dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Portland will welcome back Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins from injury. Nurkic has been sidelined all season due to a broken leg. Prior to his injury last season, he was averaging 15.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.
The biggest issue standing in Portland’s way is its schedule. After opening the restart with the Grizzlies, the Blazers have a brutal six-game stretch facing Boston, Houston, Denver, the Clippers, Philadelphia, and Dallas.
That being said, Portland won 53 games last season and reached the Western Conference Finals. Fully healthy for the first time this year, I think the Blazers are going to be a dangerous team in Orlando and will win four or more games.
Orlando Magic OVER 3.5 wins (+100)
Avoid the Bucks. That should be the motto of the Orlando Magic heading into the restart. The Magic is a ½ game back of the Nets for seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Brooklyn’s current roster is unrecognizable with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, and Taureen Prince all sidelined. As a side note, I like the Nets UNDER 2.5 wins (-115) too.
How does the Nets’ roster being decimated help the Magic? Orlando plays Brooklyn twice down in Disney including the opening game on July 31. The Magic also play the Kings on August 2. If Orlando can win all three of those games, they would only need one more win against Indiana, Toronto, Philadelphia, Boston, or New Orleans. Prior to the season being suspended, Orlando had won six of its final nine games including wins over Brooklyn, Houston, and Memphis.
Similar to Portland, Orlando benefited from the extended period off. Evan Fournier has fully recovered from a sprained UCL in his elbow that made him miss the final three games before the season got suspended. Fournier was Orlando’s second leading scorer this season.
With the motivation to avoid the Bucks in the first round, a manageable schedule, and a fully healthy team, I believe the Magic can win four or more games in Orlando.
Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook