The Eastern Conference is setting up for an incredible postseason with the top six teams separated by just 5.5 games, and the favorites to win the conference, the Brooklyn Nets, sitting in eighth place with Kevin Durant now back in action.
Sportsbooks have come to a consensus that the current top five teams in the Eastern Conference standings – the Heat, 76ers, Bucks, Bulls and Celtics – along with the Nets are the only teams with implied odds of at least five percent to advance to the Finals.
NBA Odds & Picks
|Click on a team to skip ahead|
|Miami Heat||Under 54.5 Wins (-120) | +500 to Win the East|
|Philadelphia 76ers||Over 2.5 Seed (+145) | +370 to Win the East|
|Milwaukee Bucks||-125 to Win the Central Division|
|Chicago Bulls||Over 49.5 Wins (+110)|
|Boston Celtics||+370 to Win Atlantic Division|
|Brooklyn Nets||+420 to Miss the Playoffs|
|Toronto Raptors||+290 to Miss the Playoffs|
Brandon Anderson: Under 54.5 Wins (-120, DraftKings)
The Heat are 42-22 as of writing, which means Miami has 18 games left. In other words, the Heat would need to finish 13-5 or better to hit this over. And honestly, I’m not sure they’ll need to.
Look, this isn’t even really a vote against Miami. The Heat are really good and finally healthy, and now word is that Victor Oladipo is healthy and back soon too. The Heat have a relatively soft schedule and should win plenty of games. However, I’m just not sure they’ll have any real need to get to 55 wins.
The Heat are two games ahead of Philly and likely win tonight against the Harden-less 76ers (who are on the second leg of a back-to-back), and Miami is already three games plus a tiebreaker ahead of the Bulls.
They might not need to go much better than .500 the rest of the way to coast to an easy 1-seed, and at that point, there’s no motivation to play this older roster instead of resting Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Kyle Lowry for the playoffs after a grueling, injury-plagued season.
The Heat close their season against the Bulls, Raptors, Hornets, Hawks, and Magic. Four of those teams will badly want wins to improve their postseason chances, and the Magic could have already clinched their tank by then too. I’m not fading Miami, just the Heat’s motivation to get to 55 wins. Give me the under.
Matt Moore: +500 to Win the East (FanDuel)
Miami is a sleeping dragon. The Heat have signature wins over everyone they’ll face in the East and reason to think they match up well enough to make the run. They have tough shot makers, good perimeter defenders, defensive versatility in their schemes, experience, shooting, muscle, and depth.
They were leading the Bucks for most of the game until a late collapse without Kyle Lowry last week; that would have been their third win of the season vs. Milwaukee. Brooklyn will struggle with getting stops against them, the others will struggle with Miami’s defense. They present the best value for a surprise run and still are 5-1.
Brandon Anderson: Over 2.5 Seed (+145, DraftKings)
The Heat are almost certainly locked into one of the top two seeds, which means we only need one other Eastern team to finish ahead of Philadelphia to hit this over. Maybe Milwaukee gets healthy and closes strong. Perhaps Boston’s surge up the standings continues. Maybe Chicago or Cleveland makes a big push for the division title.
Even if none of those things happen, we still don’t really know that Philadelphia will stay healthy and be great. Embiid or Harden could get hurt again, and the wins may not come as easy once the schedule stiffens up, and teams have a chance to game plan against their new look.
We don’t need any miracles here. We only really need a better than 40% chance that any one of those things bounces in our favor, and Philly ends up short of the 2-seed. Look, Embiid is around even odds to win the MVP, and if the Sixers finish as a top-2 seed, he is a very strong favorite to win that award. The fact that he’s not a heavier favorite is a good reminder of why there’s value here.
Austin Wang: +370 to Win Eastern Conference (DraftKings)
The James Harden and Joel Embiid era in Philadelphia has started off with a bang. Harden has three masterful and efficient games as the Sixers have gone 3-0 with a Net Rating of +20.4 since he joined the team. Small sample, yes, but this gives you a glimpse of how dangerous this duo can be in the playoffs.
They are the most complete team in the East. The Nets and Bucks have been allergic to playing defense. I’m not sure the Heat have enough consistency on offense to make a deep playoff run. The Bulls and Cavaliers have been great stories this season, but they are both inexperienced in the postseason and not quite built for a long playoff run. The Celtics are a well-rounded team, but I put their superstars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown a peg below Embiid and Harden.
The Sixers are their own worst enemies with Embiid’s injury history and several combined years of playoff failures between Embiid, Harden and head coach Doc Rivers. They are the new “heels” of the NBA, and I am all for it. They have a chip on their shoulder, and I expect them to bully their way, free throw by free throw, to the NBA Finals. Plus, how fun would it be to see Chris Paul and Harden face off for the championship?
Raheem Palmer: -125 to Win Central Division (DraftKings)
Editor’s note: since the time of writing, the Bucks beat the Bulls on Friday night and now sit at -225 to win the Central Division.
At the time I’m writing this, the Milwaukee Bucks are just one game behind the Chicago Bulls for first place in the Central Division, and by the time you’re reading this they could be tied or ahead given that the Bucks host the Bulls as five-point home favorites on Friday March 4th. The Bulls are in a disadvantage playing on a back-to-back, and a Bucks win would guarantee them a split on the season series.
Nonetheless, this is a Bulls team which hasn’t been in great form the second half of the season. They’re just 26th in Offensive Rating (105.5) the last two weeks, and with this team already missing Lonzo Ball, Alex Curuso and Patrick Williams, it’s clear Zach LaVine hasn’t been completely healthy as he’s been dealing with a nagging knee injury for much of the season. The Bulls have seen their defense fall off a cliff since the injuries to Ball and Curuso, ranking just 18th in Defensive Rating, allowing 112.3 points per 100 possessions.
The Bulls also face the fourth-toughest schedule for the rest of the season, which isn’t good news. When facing teams with a top-10 offense, the Bulls are 17th in Point Differential (-0.2) for the season and 16th (-7.6) over the past two weeks.
It appears the Bulls have left the door ajar for the Bucks who have also dealt with injuries for much of the season but now have their core in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton healthy. With the Bucks appearing to be in postseason form, ranking first in Offensive Rating, scoring 124.5 points per 100 possessions over the past two weeks, I’ll back them to win the Central division at -125.
Matt Moore: Over 49.5 Wins (+110, DraftKings)
The Bulls have 19 games remaining as of this writing with Alex Caruso set to resume basketball activities and Lonzo Ball heading in the right direction. If they get those two back before the end of the season, which they should, Chicago should be in position to go better than 58% vs. the remaining schedule.
Their schedule is tough, but there’s a good chance at least a few of the teams they face at the end will be locked into their seeding and provide easier wins. The Bulls will also still be jockeying for positioning, so they’ll have no reason to rest themselves.
Brandon Anderson: +370 to Win Atlantic Division (DraftKings)
I’ve been pumping up Boston for a few weeks now, and this looks like a great way to invest. The Celtics have the best defense in the NBA right now. They’ve moved Robert Williams out of the paint and unleashed him as a help defender, and that has also put Al Horford into a switching role where he’s at his best. Derrick White’s presence has been a huge addition on both ends too, especially in place of Dennis Schroder.
The Celtics are flying now. They’ve won 12 of their last 14, with many of those wins in dominant fashion, and they also have a very winnable schedule the rest of the way. Just four of their next 15 games are against teams in the top four in either conference, and a difficult closing stretch on the road against the Bulls, Bucks, and Grizzlies could end up easier than it seems if one or two of those teams is already resting for the playoffs.
This is also a bet against Philadelphia. The Celtics are only two games back and own the tiebreaker, and the Sixers have a bunch of games left and two superstars who don’t have a great history of staying healthy. I’m not worried about Toronto or Brooklyn. Boston has a good shot at 50 wins, and that puts the Cs out of reach of either of those two.
If Philly picks up another injury or struggles to adjust against tougher opponents, the road is clear for a Boston division win. The Celtics have a nice home court advantage and would want that division win for the playoffs, while Philadelphia will be more incentivized to shut it down and get healthy if Harden or Embiid get nicked. At an implied 21% chance, I’ll give it a shot.
Matt Moore: +420 to Miss the Playoffs (BetRivers)
The Nets are going to be in the play-in tournament as they sit five back in the loss column from the sixth place Cavaliers. That’s a lot to make up even for a Kevin Durant team in that span. The vaccination requirement likely won’t lift for Kyrie Irving until the end of the regular season. Ben Simmons doesn’t look like he’s going to play anytime soon. Brooklyn’s remaining schedule is easy, but they’re just too many games back to jump two teams.
From there, they’ll be favored in their play-in games. But ironically, if the Nets wind up in the seventh spot, that hurts them; Irving will miss both games as it stands right now. If it’s the Raptors or Cavs first, both of those teams play disciplined defense and play with a lot more verve than the Nets. In the second matchup, it’s either Trae Young and the Hawks or a Hornets offense that can suddenly get hot and put up 130.
Do I think the Nets can make a run and win the title? Sure! They have Kevin Durant! But the downside on this team is enormous too, and when I saw they’re five games back with fewer than 19 to play for most teams, it became apparent they’ll be in the play-in tournament, and there’s too much risk in a two-game sample.
The Toronto Raptors are seventh in the Eastern Conference and are two games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
While the Cavaliers haven’t been in good form recently, steadily slipping down the standings, the Raptors haven’t been either, losing four out of their last seven games. One of the issues with this Raptors team is that it doesn’t have a very deep roster. This is a team that has to play its starters in Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Scottie Barnes, Gary Trent Jr and OG Anunoby big minutes in order to remain competitive.
With OG Anunoby missing two weeks with a finger injury and Fred VanVleet missing time, I’m expecting this team to end up in the play-in game, so at +290 this feels like a positive expected value wager fading a team that is likely to be a dog or a short favorite in the play-in tournament.
The Raptors struggle to score in the halfcourt, ranking 26th in halfcourt points per 100 possessions (91.0). When the games slow down in a playoff-like atmosphere, I don’t trust anyone on this team to get you a bucket when it matters. Looking around at potential play-in teams in the Nets, Hornets and Hawks, I simply trust their offenses more.
Furthermore, with this number being so big, I think you’re in a good position to hedge this in the play-in tournament should the Raptors receive a favorable matchup.