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NBA Futures: What Early Win-Loss Records Mean For Win Totals Right Now

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Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Damian Lillard.

The NBA regular season and playoffs are entirely different. They are barely the same sport.

In the regular season, it’s about how you manage the schedule and how sustainable your night-to-night approach is.

In the playoffs, the effort is higher; that’s nothing insightful. But the effort isn’t just on the floor. It’s in planning. You gameplan opponents. You make tactical adjustments to those gameplans. You target specific personnel on both ends. You don’t spend possessions trying to expand your game. You focus on what you can be successful with. 

Yet to make the playoffs, you need to win enough regular season games, of course. So how do we navigate a largely “meaningless” regular season — and what do this season’s early win-loss records tell us when it comes to NBA futures and 2022-23 win totals?

There are three factors I tend to lock in on in determining which regular season games matter the most: 

Home games

Games vs. teams under. 500

Division games

The reasons are pretty obvious and simple. Home games are higher win percentage opportunities, so to establish your floor, you need to win those. Being bad at home increases your difficulty in the games you need to win to account for them. 

Games vs. sub .500 teams are games you should, theoretically, win. So if you have a poor relative performance in those games, you’ll struggle to make up for them vs. teams .500 or better. 

Division games help your tiebreaker status, but they’re also the opponents you play most often. 

For proof of what these factors mean, in the last ten seasons:

88% of teams with a 75th percentile record against division opponents have made the playoffs; 73% have gone over their win total.

96% of teams with a 75th percentile record at home have made the playoffs; 65% have gone over their win total.

92% of teams with a 75th percentile record against sub-.500 teams have made the playoffs; 70% have gone over their win total.

If those games are the ones that matter most for regular-season performance, which ones don’t?

Road games

Games vs. teams over .600

Non-conference games

Those games are lower percentage winning situations. Certainly, stealing games vs. good opponents can counter losing games to bad teams, but over the course of the season, it’s difficult to make losses up. 

So if we use the early season records in these key areas as predictive, what are the win total futures bets we should look at? 

NBA Futures & Win Total Bets to Make Based on 2022-23 Win-Loss Records So Far

MILWAUKEE BUCKS UNDER 53.5 WINS (Bet365)

Division record: 4-3
Opponents under .500: 11-7
Home record: 15-3

The Bucks are just 11-7 vs. teams under .500 this season and 4-3 vs. teams in their division, with losses in the past two weeks to the Cavaliers and Bulls.

That number vs. bad teams might seem good, but you want a wider disparity, even if some teams will flip. (Teams under .500 may finish over by season’s end and vice versa.)

Milwaukee has been outstanding at home (15-3), but they also played a very home-heavy schedule, and when they started having road games, the slide started. 

You can take your chances with the Cavaliers to win the division (+230), but Milwaukee’s “expected wins per 82 games” based on point differential is only 47.9, giving us five full games of separation.

NEW ORLEANS PELICANS OVER 48.5 (Bet365)/TO WIN DIVISION +300 (FanDuel)

Division record: 6-2
Opponents under .500: 12-5
Home record: 16-4

The Pelicans are obviously really good, tied for the best record in the Western Conference. But there is still some stickiness to their preseason win total of 45.5 here.

New Orleans is projected to win 53.4 by point differential. That’s just slightly behind Memphis, although I have the Pelicans as 2.75 points better than an average team and the Grizzlies 0.75 points better.

Memphis is on pace for a similar track and has the same kind of numbers in the key areas. I tend to believe in the Pelicans more than the Grizzlies, both because of the absence of Brandon Ingram this season and the Grizzlies’ middling half-court offense. 

If you want to take both, you very well might come out ahead based on this rubric, though.

Zion Williamson suffered a hamstring injury since I wrote this and will miss over a month according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. This sinks his lingering NBA MVP candidacy. Can the Pelicans stay afloat without him?

The Pelicans are +1.4 in net rating when Williamson is off the floor. Their depth is a legit strength. We’re seeing an increased level of parity this season. Relative to how low the market is, still anchored to their preseason expectations, I think there remains value on both the over on win total and division play.

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PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS OVER 42.5 WINS

Division record: 4-5
Opponents under .500: 9-3
Home record: 8-6

The Blazers have an expected-wins-per-82 mark of just 41.5 based on point differential, which I think is a reason this is as low as it is.

However, in the context of the season, things look remarkably different. 

For starters, Portland has played the fewest home games this season at just 14. Of their final 47 games, 27 are at home. So then you look to their mediocre 8-6 record. But two things to consider: when you’re on the road that often, your rhythm is disrupted. Second, the losses have come against the Heat, Suns, Nuggets, Warriors, and Nets.

Their division record isn’t great, but they have already played three games against the Nuggets. They do have two losses to the Thunder, but that should stabilize as the year goes on. 

Their point differential is impacted by the 12 games Damian Lillard has been out, and there’s no reason to think he will miss significant time in the second half of the season. 

Portland has a lot of upside in these key categories. 

ATLANTA HAWKS TO MISS THE PLAYOFFS (+100 at DraftKings)

Division record: 4-3
Opponents under .500: 10-8
Home record: 11-8

These numbers are all positive, but they’re also well below the mark you want to see. The Hawks‘ win total is 41.5 at Bet365, and that’s too low; you’d be buying them under at a peak price. (They are on pace for just 36.7 wins per 82, however.)

I like the “to miss the playoffs” mark more, though. The Celtics, Bucks, Nets, Sixers, and Cavaliers are all assuredly better than the Hawks. That means Atlanta has to beat out Indiana, Miami, the Knicks, the Bulls, and the Raptors if they get it together to avoid the play-in. 

This team also clearly has chemistry issues with how many reports have popped up about tension with Nate McMillan and Trae Young, and their constant, unending trade rumors. 

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