The 2016-17 NBA season seems fairly predictable at first glance. If you’re looking down one scope, that’s probably true. In the end, we’re almost certainly headed for a third straight NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors.

Tim Duncan’s retirement hurt the Spurs, Kevin Durant going to Golden State hurt the Thunder and there just isn’t a viable contender that could dethrone the Cavs out of the Eastern Conference. If your long game when it comes to NBA betting is coming up with a sleeper NBA Finals winner – or just anyone not named the Cavs or Dubs – you’re probably wasting your time.

There are other ways to make good on some NBA bets, however. Betting daily on individual NBA games and props is one route, but the other could be correctly predicting the division winners in the divisions not dominated by the Cavaliers and Warriors.

Truth be told, we can safely write off anyone else from winning the Central Division or Pacific Division in 2017. Going with the Bucks at +5000 or the Suns at +20000 sure seems like fun, but those aren’t just not happening – they won’t be close.

Instead, let’s focus on the following divisions and see if some intriguing bets could pay off:

Atlantic Division

  • Celtics -105
  • Raptors +105
  • Knicks +1000
  • 76ers +10000
  • Nets +10000

Toronto won this division the past three years straight, yet for some reason Boston is favored at Bovada and other sports betting websites. Right there you’re getting a mild NBA betting edge, so we could stop short at throwing down a big bet on the Raptors winning the division again.

Boston did get better by adding Al Horford, but Toronto is still the best team in this division. In fact, if you’re going to bank on someone improving, you might as well take the odds the Knicks get and see if the additions of Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee and Joakim Noah can help them jump back into the playoffs.

Toronto is probably winning this division, but if you’re not betting on them, shoot high with the Knicks.

Northwest Division

  • Thunder +250
  • Blazers +260
  • Jazz +260
  • Timberwolves +333
  • Nuggets +3000

This division could actually be wide open this year. OKC ran away with it last season, but Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka are gone. That hits them on both ends of the court, and while we wouldn’t exactly bet against Russell Westbrook, there is a very compelling argument that this team could regress a bit.

That could make for just enough regression to make the Jazz or Blazers interesting bets in this division. Utah is looking like a roll of the dice given their health, as Gordon Hayward (finger), Derrick Favors (knee), Alec Burks and even Rodney Hood have already started the year off all banged up. Portland, then, may be the sexier play, especially after getting a little deeper by adding glue guys like Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli.

We can’t completely ignore Denver or Minnesota, either, as they round out what is quickly looking like an extremely deep and possibly very competitive division. Karl-Anthony Towns could push the Wolves to new heights, while Denver has a ton of offensive talent that is really exciting.

This is undeniably a fun division, but much like a year ago, it’s OKC’s to lose. It’s a legit tie between Utah and Portland as the second best team here, and for now we’d give the edge to the Blazers. But if we’re betting here, the Thunder is the only team that makes good sense with these odds.

Southeast Division

  • Hawks +180
  • Wizards +300
  • Heat +350
  • Hornets +350
  • Magic +1600

Here is a division where last year’s winner (Miami) is absolutely due for regression. Miami has a lot of nice young talent and good coaching, but Chris Bosh (blood clots) and Dwyane Wade (free agency) aren’t here anymore. There are even whispers that the Heat could trade Goran Dragic. As if this thing isn’t blown to bits already. Miami is in serious danger of slipping out of the playoff picture entirely, so repeating as the Southeast Division champs just seems like a reach.

Their odds rank third here, though, so perhaps Bovada makes that regression obvious. The same could be the case for the Hawks and Hornets, though, both of which have solid odds to make a run at the division crown. Atlanta added Dwight Howard, but lost Jeff Teague and Al Horford and may not get Kyle Korver back to his 2014-15 form ever again. Unless Dwight is magically the reliable beast he was five years ago, the Hawks are destined to slip a bit.

The same goes for the Hornets, who lost offensive spark Jeremy Lin and big man Al Jefferson. They still have talent and some depth, but they’re just not the same and they’re not feared down low in the least.

This has us really looking at the Wizards rising up and taking over the division with new coach Scott Brooks leading the way. Kelly Oubre Jr. and Otto Porter are developing nicely, Markieff Morris is preparing for his first full season with the Wiz and Brad Beal is healthy. If the Wiz are going to make noise, this is the year.

Orlando actually deserves a big shout out here, both because their +1600 odds could be fun as heck and because they made major efforts to get better. Adding proven coach Frank Vogel was massive, while they also worked hard to improve defensively by bringing in Bismack Biyombo and Serge Ibaka. They lost Victor Oladipo, but they still have Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic to pace the offense, as well as a budding versatile stud in Aaron Gordon. If Vogel can find the right mix, this could be a team to monitor.

Honestly, the Wizards look ready to make a big move, so they’re the team we’d eye here. If you’re feeling saucy, however, the Magic could finally be primed for a playoff return and Vogel just might have the thinking bigger. Like, division title, big.

Southwest Division

  • Spurs -750
  • Grizzlies +1200
  • Rockets +1200
  • Pelicans +2500
  • Mavericks +4000

Last, but not least, is the Southwest Division, where Bovada gives zero chance to anyone not from San Antonio. I get that, seeing as the Spurs won a franchise record 67 games last year. They also hypothetically offset the loss of Tim Duncan by bringing in Pau Gasol and honestly, they still don’t have many flaws.

The Spurs defend, they share the ball and they win at home. They also have Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge and can turn to a pretty strong bench in a pinch.

All that being said, they’ve also never really been a title threat without Duncan. There is a severe culture, leadership, etc that exits with him and we can’t ignore that, nor the steady regression of Tony Parker.

If the Spurs can’t get it done (even though they will), this could actually be fairly wide open. New Orleans figures to at least be healthier than last year, Houston’s high octane offense could have them operating as the fastest team in the league, Memphis is healthy again and added Chandler Parsons and the Mavs brought in Harrison Barnes, Seth Curry and Andrew Bogut.

I’m not sure any of this gets any of these teams better than the Spurs, but if there is a sleeper team to bet on here, it’s Houston. Mike D’Antoni made a living during the regular season with an offensive system that puts up points and wins games. The Rockets were also pretty darn good when it was the James Harden show two years ago – a season in which they won this division (gasp!).

James Harden at the point is the right move for what this team is trying to do, and hypothetically at least, a starting five consisting of Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson and some combination of Nene Hilario and Clint Capela is quite deadly.

The issue with the Rockets is going to be defense across the board, but that may not stop them from getting 60 wins by smoking most teams on a nightly basis.

Ultimately, the Spurs probably win the division, but they’re odds are atrocious for betting purposes. Instead, roll with Houston or aim super high with the Mavs.

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