Pels, Hawks worth look for division

The NBA season opened on Tuesday but there is still time to cash in on a pair of my favorite futures if you’re reading this and can get in on wagers at your favorite sportsbook.

The New Orleans Pelicans offer fabulous value as the unlikely winner of the Southwest Division that has been owned by teams from Texas over the past two decades and features the Dallas Mavericks as this season’s favorite.

The Atlanta Hawks are another longshot worth getting behind as they seek to win the Southeast Division for the first time since 2015. They won the Central back in 1994, languished for two decades and then got back on track under Mike Budenholzer behind Paul Millsap and Al Horford, winning 60 games.

Time sure flies by.

The Pelicans have only captured the Southwest Division once, finishing first in ’07-’08. General Manager David Griffin began rebuilding the roster last season upon taking over and has assembled a terrific group for Stan Van Gundy to lead as the former Magic and Pistons head coach returns to the sideline after a few years as a commentator.

I’ve seen 6-1 odds on both the Pelicans and Hawks to win their respective divisions since the Mavs and Heat are heavily favored, so strike while the opportunity exists.

New Orleans returns last season’s Most Improved Player winner, Brandon Ingram, former No. 1 pick Zion Williamson and Lonzo Ball, who should be ready to take a major step forward in his third season. Griffin traded Jrue Holiday away but landed Eric Bledsoe to help out Ball in the backcourt while also picking up center Steven Adams from Oklahoma City. A terrific rebounder, Adams also sets some of the best screens in the league, which is sure to help the offense take a major step forward.

Van Gundy’s calling card is a commitment to detail on defense, which is another reason the Pels are my choice to win the Southwest since this team is built to start carving out an identity on that side of the ball. Bledsoe is a pest and has a chip on his shoulder after being labeled as the reason why the Bucks fell short of expectations due to their elimination over the past two seasons corresponding with him not playing well in the playoffs. Ball is long and a marvelous athlete. He’s now been around enough to be a difference-maker. Williamson is known mostly as a dunker, but has the tools to be a problem for opposing forwards. Adams and Ingram are long and should pose a problem at their positions.

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With Luka Doncic being cast as the MVP favorite ahead of defending two-time winner Giannis Antetokounmpo, Dallas has had unfair expectations cast upon it despite finishing second in the Southwest last season. It hasn’t won the division since 2010. James Harden still wants out of Houston, a new-look San Antonio squad is still looking to establish a new identity with Gregg Popovich pledging to run more and Memphis remains extremely young despite overachieving last season. Look for New Orleans to take advantage.

Hawks GM Travis Schlenk is far and away the frontrunner for NBA Executive of the Year based on what he’s done thus far. Atlanta added forward Danilo Gallinari and guards Bogdan Bogdanovic, Rajon Rondo and Kris Dunn to help Trae Young reach the playoffs for the first time. With Clint Capela set to play a major role alongside John Collins up front after sitting out most of last season, the Hawks now have big men they can dump it down to or lob the ball into and shooters all over the place to punish defenses when they attempt to lock in on Young.

Miami won the Eastern Conference in the bubble and remains a force to be reckoned with, but bookmakers have underestimated Atlanta’s additions, leaving the door open for a potential money-making opportunity. Both the Hawks and Pelicans should be on your holiday to-do list when betting NBA futures. Now on to the Christmas Day shopping.

Friday

Nets -1 at Celtics: Brooklyn opened against Golden State and will hit the road for the holidays as Kyrie Irving returns to Boston. He won’t be booed mercilessly due to COVID-19 restrictions and should actually get the first laugh here since his replacement, Kemba Walker, is sidelined due to a knee issue. Kevin Durant will have his hands full with Jayson Tatum but is moving around extremely well after his Achilles tear and remains a terror for opposing defenses. Ride the visitors here. NETS

Mavericks at Lakers -6: Without Kristaps Porzingis, Dallas opened as a 7-point underdog and the number was quickly bet down. It remains too high by my estimation. Doncic idolizes LeBron James but has never bowed down to the King, actually lifting up his level of play when facing the Lakers over his two seasons in the NBA. Look for him and the Mavs to do their part in frustrating the defending champs by at least earning a cover in this one. MAVERICKS

Clippers -1 at Nuggets: Losing a 3-1 lead in the bubble led to the firing of Doc Rivers and the breakup of last season’s Clips with Montrezl Harrell defecting to the Lakers and Landry Shamet being dealt away. Tyronn Lue and enough of the Clippers remain to ensure they set the tone for a new season by exorcising some demons, so look for Denver to pay for last season’s Western Conference finals appearance with a holiday setback at home. CLIPPERS