NBA Futures: Can the Pelicans Actually Make the Playoffs?

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It’s only December, which means there is an awfully long way to go before the 2021-22 NBA season is over and done with. Remember, the 2020-21 campaign hadn’t even started at this time a year ago. We’re only about 14 months removed from the Lakers’ win over the Heat in the 2020 Finals, which feels like it took place six years ago at this point.

So, a lot can change over the next few months. Injuries will play an unfortunate role in the way the standings play out, but we can only use the information we have at hand right now. There is an element of trying to predict the future that comes with NBA futures betting, but part of being a profitable bettor is knowing when to strike in an attempt to maximize your long-term profits.

That’s a long way of saying that futures odds tend to be pretty soft. The oddsmakers don’t have any more information than we do. As a result, there is upside to be found if you know where to look. NBA betting sites are keeping tabs on the standings and updating their odds to make the playoffs with each passing day.

Which teams look like attackable value bets as we enter December?

Washington Wizards

  • To Make Playoffs (+125)
  • To Miss Playoffs (-155)

The Eastern Conference is a jumbled mess right now. Just 4.5 games separate the top-seeded Brooklyn Nets from the 11th-seeded Philadelphia 76ers entering play on December 2. For the first time in decades, the East seems to have more depth than the West this season. 11 Eastern Conference teams have positive point differentials, compared to just six such teams out West.

The Washington Wizards may be the most surprising team of all. Washington has missed the playoffs in two of the past three years, though they did qualify last season via the play-in tournament. The Wiz have not posted a winning record since 2018, so it’s hard not to be encouraged by their solid 14-8 start.

The Wiz haven’t done it on an easy schedule, either. Washington is an impressive 9-5 so far this season against teams with winning records, while they’re 5-3 against losing teams. Wes Undeld Jr.’s squad has already banked wins over the Mavericks, Heat, Bucks, Hawks, and Celtics. Unseld instilled a defense-first approach after arriving over the summer, which was a breath of fresh air following the no-defense Scott Brooks era.

Oddsmakers are bearish on the Wizards being legitimately good, which is why their +125 odds to qualify for the playoffs stand out. Washington has a superstar No. 1 scorer in Bradley Beal, while Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have all looked like shrewd offseason additions. Deni Avdija is a transforming presence defensively on the wing, while Raul Neto brings a veteran presence off the bench.

Bottom Line: The Wizards Are Good, and They’re Not Going Anywhere

There isn’t much breathing room in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference, but I do think Washington will punch another playoff ticket this season. Grab those +125 odds while you still can.

Washington Wizards –To Make Playoffs (+125)

New Orleans Pelicans

  • To Make Playoffs (+1100)
  • To Miss Playoffs (-2500)

Is this a reach? Possibly. The Pelicans certainly haven’t done themselves any favors. New Orleans owns one of the worst records in the league at just 6-18. The 5-16 Rockets and 4-17 Pistons are the only teams with worse winning percentages thus far. The Pels’ minus-7.5 point differential also ranks among the worst in the sport.

In spite of it all, I still don’t think this team is dead and buried just yet. Let’s consider some context. Zion Williamson hasn’t played one second so far this season after undergoing offseason foot surgery. He was just cleared for full-contact practice, which means his return is imminent. He’ll probably have to play his way into shape, but the Pelicans will add a bona fide superstar once Zion makes his season debut. Obviously, that’ll help.

The Pelicans are also incorporating a new coaching staff and a few new rotation players. Willie Green is in his first year as a head coach at any level, while Jonas Valanciunas, Devonte’ Graham, and Herbert Jones are still finding their footing with their new team. Graham, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart have all missed time due to injury thus far. Once the Pelicans finally have a full complement of players, more wins will follow.

The schedule-makers didn’t help the Pelicans at all, either. New Orleans has played the most difficult schedule in the entire league to this point, and it isn’t particularly close. 20 of the Pels’ 24 games have come against teams with winning records. They happen to be 0-4 against sub-.500 teams, but that’s another story. On the bright side, the daunting early schedule means the Pelicans actually have the easiest schedule in the league the rest of the way. That should help balance out the win/loss record, too.

At full strength, the Pels are not a 6-18 team. New Orleans was a trendy pick to challenge for a playoff spot before the season began, and I still think they can make a run at it. They’re still only 5.5 games behind Denver for the final play-in spot, and the bottom half of the West isn’t exactly laden with Dream Teams. Given the remaining schedule and reinforcements on the way, I do think the Pelicans have an outside shot at nabbing an elusive playoff spot.

The +1100 odds on the Pels to make the playoffs aren’t for the faint of heart, but I think there is merit to taking a stab at ’em while they’re this low.

New Orleans Pelicans –To Make Playoffs (+1100)

Denver Nuggets

  • To Make Playoffs (-310)
  • To Miss Playoffs (+240)

To say that the Nuggets are in the midst of the season from hell would be quite an understatement. Nobody questions the notion that Denver is a championship-caliber team when healthy. The problem? They’re not healthy, and they won’t be healthy for a very, very long time.

Denver was already up against it with star point guard Jamal Murray sidelined to begin the year with a torn ACL. Murray is expected to return at some point this year, but there’s no firm timetable. Since the season started, they’ve been absolutely demoralized by the injury bug. Michael Porter Jr. may be done for the year with another back injury. PJ Dozier just tore his ACL. Nikola Jokic recently returned from a wrist injury that kept him out for several games. Austin Rivers just got Covid, and Bones Hyland is unavailable for the next few games as a close contact.

Murray’s eventual return should help, but who knows when he’ll be back? And, when he does return, who knows how long it’ll take him to get back to 100 percent?

Porter’s absence takes Murray’s primary scoring replacement out of the mix, which means Jokic will have to do even more than he already does in order to keep this team afloat.

Things reached rock bottom on Wednesday when Denver blew a big first-half lead on their way to an embarrassing 108-103 loss to the lowly Magic. Orlando is just 5-16 after that victory. It was absolutely not a game the Nuggets could afford to lose, yet they did. The Nuggets are now 10-11 and clinging to the 10th seed and final play-in spot. The overall weakness of the West should help keep Denver in the playoff picture, but I absolutely do not think this team should be listed at -310 to make the playoffs.

The only surefire way to get into the postseason is to finish in the top-six. Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of the play-in tourney. Given their massive injury issues already, it’s hard to imagine this team having enough gas in the tank to turn things around. I’d be all over the +240 odds you can get on Denver to miss out on postseason play.

Denver Nuggets –To Miss Playoffs (+240)

Minnesota Timberwolves

  • To Make Playoffs (+150)
  • To Miss Playoffs (-185)

At long last, the Minnesota Timberwolves are finally a good basketball team. Minnesota has made the playoffs a grand total of one time since 2004. That was 2018, when Tom Thibodeau was patrolling the sidelines and Jimmy Butler was willing the team to wins on a nightly basis. So far this year, the Wolves are 11-11 and tied with the Clippers and Trail Blazers for the seventh-best record in the West.

That Record Isn’t Great, But There Are Plenty of Positive Signs

Minnesota is one of the six teams in the conference with a positive point differential (plus-1.1), while they’re 7-3 in their last 10 games. The star power speaks for itself. Karl-Anthony Towns is still doing his thing, while Anthony Edwards is quickly blossoming in his second pro campaign. Patrick Beverley has been a godsend playing next to D’Angelo Russell in the backcourt, as well.

While the offense has been surprisingly shaky, Minnesota has made massive strides defensively. The Timberwolves are quietly fifth in the league in defensive rating, yielding just 103.2 points per 100 possessions. Whether they can keep it up is another question, but that’s quite a leap from a team that ranked just 25th in the league in defense a season ago. Beverley and the underrated Jarred Vanderbilt deserve plenty of credit.

The Wolves would be a play-in team if the season ended today, but they’re only a half-game behind the Lakers for the No. 6 seed and a surefire playoff spot. Oddsmakers aren’t yet fully sold on Minnesota’s viability as a playoff contender, which makes the +150 odds on the Wolves to nab a spot quite attractive.

Minnesota Timberwolves –To Make Playoffs (+150)

Boston Celtics

  • To Make Playoffs (-225)
  • To Miss Playoffs (+180)

We know the East is an unpredictable mess right now. The Boston Celtics are off to a decent 12-10 start, but that’s good for just the No. 8 seed as of this writing. The Celtics would be the No. 4 seed if they were in the West. Boston is another team that has dealt with some injuries. Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams have both missed considerable time, which is certainly a factor.

The issue with the Celtics is that they don’t seem to have much of an identity. Boston is heavily dependent on Brown and Jayson Tatum to carry the team offensively, but they’re a bit redundant playing alongside one another. Marcus Smart has already gone public with his discontent, which makes it seem as though the Celtics have some chemistry issues that need sorting out.

The Celts are 6-2 against losing teams with a record of just 6-8 against clubs .500 or better. Boston certainly has enough talent to weather the storm and get back on track, but let’s not forget that this same talented roster limped its way to a playoff berth a season ago. Boston went 36-36 last season before they were blasted by the Nets in the first round of the playoffs. I’m not convinced that a few minor tweaks to the roster will be enough to make the Celtics much better than a .500 team at the season’s end.

This is just a numbers play. Boston would be a play-in team if the season ended today, which doesn’t count as a playoff berth. Boston’s -225 odds to make the playoffs seem to be reputation-based more than anything else. I don’t mind a flier on the +180 odds on Boston to miss out on the postseason.

Boston Celtics –To Miss Playoffs (+180)
Taylor Smith

Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...

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