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The 2021-22 NBA season is nearly upon us, so this is the time to get all of your futures bets in. I already wrote about my six favorite over/unders, and our own Matt Moore has a deep-dive piece on every single team.
But while I do love picking over/unders, if I’m tying my money up in futures, I often like to be more aggressive and make it worth my wait.
A simple -110 bet on an over/under often isn’t always worth my time, even if I feel really good about a particular line. Title and conference odds are too far in the future, and out of reach for all but a few teams.
That’s why I like to bet division odds.
Betting on divisions is a great way to isolate two or three teams effectively head-to-head, since we can usually ignore a couple teams at the bottom, and bet a specific angle on one or against another.
Let’s look at all six NBA divisions and identity the best bet in each one and whether it’s worth playing.
|Atlantic | Central | Southeast | Northwest | Pacific | Southwest|
NBA Division Odds & Picks
The Nets are the title favorites, so they’re obviously Atlantic favorites. They’re not a wise bet for the division, though. The Kyrie Irving situation is getting worse, not better, and the team is extremely top-heavy and lacking in depth with precious little defense.
And above all else, there’s little reason to believe Brooklyn gives even a rip about the division or regular season. The Nets have Kevin Durant and James Harden, and they know just getting to the playoffs with those two healthy makes them East favorites. That’s all that matters.
That means we shouldn’t bet on the Nets’ division odds, and that the door could be open here. Philadelphia would be next in line, but there’s so many ways that can go wrong. The Ben Simmons situation is still unresolved and we don’t know how long the team could be without him or the oft-injured Joel Embiid. There’s more downside than upside right now in Philly.
That’s why I think the Boston Celtics are the play. I love the Celtics this season and already wrote at length about their over. They’re coming off a season where everything went wrong, but they played at a 49-win pace or better the previous four seasons.
Boston ranked top-seven in Defensive Efficiency in each of those seasons, per Basketball Reference, and the defense should be far improved this season thanks to Marcus Smart in the starting lineup in place of Kemba Walker. Al Horford and Robert Williams will get the minutes at center instead of former Celtic Tristan Thompson.
This is a much improved roster, one that feels more like a Celtics team. Josh Richardson was a great pickup, he’s the sort of a 3-and-D wing who fits well in Boston.
Dennis Schroder and Enes Kanter provide scoring punch off the bench without damaging the starting defense. Boston is deeper and more balanced, and we haven’t even mentioned Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown, the talented young wings who get better every year.
Can Boston win the division? It probably means getting to that 53-to-55 win range, like the Celtics have done three times in five years. I’d give Boston at least a 15% chance at the division, so at +1000 at BetMGM (implied 9.1%), that’s a serious edge in our favor.
Even better, we can bet Celtics-Nets to finish 1-2 in the division at +1800 at BetMGM. That’s a smarter play since Brooklyn is probably too talented to fall too far.
But if we believe in Boston, we can still dream bigger. If the Celtics do win the division, that means they’re ahead of the Nets and 76ers in the standings. Who’s left in the East?
It’s pretty much the Bucks and the Celtics atop the Conference at that point. That means a Celtics division win would very likely put them in play for a top-two seed. Boston is +1400 to be the No. 2 seed at PointsBet or +4000 to make it all the way to the No. 1 seed.
The No. 2 seed odds aren’t worth the play. I will, however, sprinkle a little of my bet on the +4000 to get the No. 1 seed. If Boston does win the division, that’s a great way to boost our potential payout.
VERDICT: Bet Celtics-Nets +1800 to finish 1-2 in the division at BetMGM, and sprinkle Celtics +4000 to get the No. 1 seed
This is Milwaukee’s division, and everyone else is just living in it.
The Bucks are the class of the Central, and the only other teams you can even wildly dream about are the Bulls or Pacers, but both teams are multiple classes behind. Without a major Giannis Antetokounmpo injury, Milwaukee should coast to another division title.
I’m not betting against the Bucks or rooting for injuries, but the number is so long that there’s no real value on Milwaukee either. If you’d like, you can effectively bet on Pacers or Bulls head-to-head by betting on division finish at BetMGM, choosing either Bucks-Pacers or Bucks-Bulls.
Verdict: Bucks will win it, but pass
Both were surprise Eastern Conference Finalists the last two years, and there’s a case for each.
Miami added Kyle Lowry to Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. The Heat will be really tough defensively and they have an outstanding coach in Erik Spoelstra. But Miami’s offense looks mostly average and could lack spacing and shooting, and the depth is a major question mark. Health could be a factor too, with a ton of mileage on Butler and Lowry.
The Hawks are flying high after their playoff run. They’re loaded with young talent and should see better health than last year, when Bogdan Bogdanovic and De’Andre Hunter missed significant time.
Trae Young made a leap in the playoffs and could have another step to take — the roster is quite deep as well. The question with Atlanta is whether there’s enough defense from night to night and if the young players will take another step forward.
In the end, these teams are near even. I have the Hawks around 45 to 50 wins with 43 to 49 for the Heat. That’s close to a coin flip, but the Heat tail is longer on the downside if injuries and aging catch up, and the Hawks have a little more upside. I’d give a very slight advantage to Atlanta.
But the books are giving Miami the advantage. You can bet Atlanta at +135 to win the Southeast at DraftKings. That’s an implied 42.6%, giving us great odds on our coin flip, especially if we think the coin is slightly weighted in our favor.
The Pick: Bet Hawks-Heat to finish 1-2 in the division at +175 at BetMGM
The Jazz are the division favorite, and they should be. Utah was the best team in basketball last season, even with some injuries to Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley. This season’s team adds versatility and depth — Rudy Gay, Eric Paschall, Hassan Whiteside, and rookie Jared Butler — and they really only lost Derrick Favors.
The Jazz defense will be stout as long as Rudy Gobert doesn’t miss serious time, and the offense took a big leap forward last season with all the spacing and shooting.
Utah should be very good again, but the division isn’t the right play. If you believe in the Jazz replicating last year’s production, betting them as the No. 1 seed (+190 at PointsBet) is the better play.
I like the Jazz, but winning basketball games is hard and things don’t always stay the same each season. They are coming off yet another playoff disappointment, and I have real concerns about Gobert staying healthy after a pair of condensed seasons and playoff runs plus the Summer Olympics.
I’m willing to bet on Utah regressing to the mean some, enough that they’re maybe 50/50 to win a talented division, and that leaves the door open.
The case for Denver begins with the reigning MVP, Nikola Jokic. He’s so good that the floor on this team remains very high, even without Jamal Murray. Michael Porter Jr. is ready to break out, and Aaron Gordon and the other pieces fit very nicely around Jokic on this roster.
The Nuggets won 54, 52, and 54 games per-82 the last three seasons. Michael Malone always maximizes this team, and the offense will be elite with Jokic. Don’t overrate the loss of Murray during the regular season.
Denver needs him to hit their ceiling in the playoffs, but they’ll win plenty without him in the regular season. The Nuggets are +450 to win the Northwest at DraftKings, an implied 18.2%. That’s too low.
I like the Blazers even better. This is the best version of the Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum team. Norman Powell gives Portland a third playmaker its never had before, and Larry Nance and Cody Zeller were excellent bench additions who should help this defense.
Portland lost half a season from McCollum last year and even more from Jusuf Nurkic, who finished 10th on the team in minutes. The Blazers ranked in the bottom three on defense the past two seasons but were league average in Nurk’s last healthy season.
They’ve ranked in the top three on offense each of the last three years. With their big man healthy and a deep, versatile roster around Dame and CJ, the Blazers could push 50-plus wins again.
The Blazers are +1000 to win the division at BetMGM. I have the Jazz around 51-to-57 wins as the most likely division winner, but the Nuggets are at 48-to-54 with the Blazers 46-to-54. If Utah plays its best, I don’t think Denver or Portland catch them. But look at that 51-to-54 range — that’s our sweet spot.
Both the Nuggets and Blazers’ numbers are good here, and both are worth playing. In fact, you can even play both of them if you just want to frame your bet as a straight fade of the Jazz. At +450 and +1000, we’re still getting significant plus juice against the Jazz even if we play both angles.
If you bet equal money on Denver and Portland and assume even odds of winning the division, you are effectively getting +313 to fade Utah’s division odds. I love that.
I’m not betting on 1-2 finish here. If you are really out on the Jazz, you can bet Nuggets-Blazers to go 1-2 at +1800 or Blazers-Nuggets at +3000, both at BetMGM. Too risky for me.
The Bet: Nuggets +450, Blazers +1000, or both together if you just want to fade the Jazz
Every Western Conference champion has come out of the Pacific since 2014. That’s the Suns last season, the Lakers before that, and all those Warriors years — and that’s even without mentioning all those good Clippers teams.
That makes this a really tough division to cap, and it also means the division angle might not be the right play here. If you like the Lakers, bet them to win the No. 1 seed at +175 at DraftKings.
If you’re fading the Lakers, that means the West is probably wide open. If you think the Suns match last season’s feat, bet them to win the West. If you like the Warriors to make one more magical run, bet their title odds.
The division is not the play here. Winning the division means hitting higher-end outcomes, and if you believe in the high-end outcomes enough to bet the division, you should play more aggressively instead.
Verdict: If you think the Lakers, Warriors, or Suns are that good, think bigger than division odds
The books largely agree with that but make Dallas a huge favorite, while I personally think these teams are almost dead even. That makes the Grizzlies a terrific division play.
Let’s start with the Mavs. Luka Doncic is awesome, and he’s the MVP favorite. He’ll win it someday, probably more than once.
But what else do you like about this team?
Do you believe in Kristaps Porzingis finally staying healthy and figuring things out? Are you loving the random spare parts on the roster, or the lack of depth or any real defense?
And oh boy, you must be excited about swapping out one of the league’s finest coaches in Rick Carlisle for the only man who’s stopped Giannis Antetokounmpo in the past decade, Jason Kidd!
Doncic is too good for the Mavs to fall too far, but how much better can he really be than what he already was last season? Dallas played 47- and 48-win paces the last two seasons — good but certainly not great — and took a huge downgrade at coach.
Doncic also has trouble staying healthy and put in a grueling Olympic cycle. If he misses any real time, this team is screwed. Even if they don’t, even if Luka is awesome all year, the ceiling looks limited.
And that’s why I love the Grizzlies at +440 to win the division at FanDuel. Memphis has far outperformed expectations each of the past two seasons, so it might be time to put some respect on Taylor Jenkins’ name.
The Grizzlies play fierce defense, and they’ve played well even as the team has been riddled with injuries. Ja Morant got hurt the third game of last season and never looked right all season. Jaren Jackson Jr. basically missed the season. That’s arguably the two best Grizzlies, and they went 38-34 anyway.
That’s because Memphis got a low-key breakout season from Kyle Anderson, and because this team is super deep and nasty defensively. It’s because this bench unit crushes opponents, with guys like DeAnthony Melton, Brandon Clarke, and Xavier Tillman, all advanced metrics darlings.
This season’s team adds Kris Dunn’s to that bench and defense, and it gets Morant and JJJ back healthy. I don’t love the swap of Jonas Valanciunas for Steven Adams, but Adams is the better defender and might be the better pick-and-roll partner for Morant with his mean screens.
Memphis is the exact sort of team you back in the regular season. Outstanding defense and coaching will keep them in almost any game, and terrific depth will help the team win random games on those off nights in February when more top-heavy teams pick up losses. Add in potential breakouts from Morant, Jackson, and the other young talent on offense, and there’s a lot to like.
I have Memphis and Dallas both around 44 to 48 wins, basically dead even. There’s no question the Mavs have the best player. But I’ll take the next 14 players on the Grizz roster over Dallas’ 100 times out of 100, and I’ll take Jenkins over Kidd, too.
In the playoffs, you bet on Doncic even despite all that. Over 82 games, bet on depth, defense, and showing up every single night.
This +440 number on the Grizzlies is patently absurd. Memphis played at a 44-win pace last year with its best player hurt all year and its only spacing big man basically out for the season.
There’s no way this team should have only an 18.5% implied chance at winning the division. I’d give Memphis at least double those odds, and even that might be conservative.
The Memphis Grizzlies are the best division bet on the board.
The Bet: Bet Grizzlies +440 to win the division at FanDuel