Heading into the NBA Playoffs, the Phoenix Suns are the sportsbooks’ favorites to win it all, followed by the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks. [Image: Shutterstock.com]
Three of the four favorites in the East
March Madness may be in the rearview mirror, but there is still plenty of exciting basketball left to watch, as the NBA Playoffs are about to begin. With two “play-in” games left tonight, the “official” playoffs start on Saturday afternoon. And with four series in each conference, there are lots of opportunities to wager, so let’s take a look at some of the betting lines for the NBA championship tournament.
As mentioned, there are still two play-in games remaining, so two of the playoff matchups are not set, but regardless of the outcome of Friday’s contests, odds shouldn’t change much, if at all.
the Suns romped through the Western Conference to the best record in the NBA
According to bookmakers, the favorites to win the title are last year’s finalists: the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks. The Suns romped through the Western Conference to the best record in the NBA and are currently +260 to win the championship on BetMGM. The Bucks, champions last year for the first time in 50 years, are +500.
The two other teams with odds of better than +1,000 on BetMGM are the Boston Celtics at +750 and the Brooklyn Nets at +800. Interestingly, they play each other in the first round, so one of them is getting eliminated early.
The longest shots are the Cleveland Cavaliers and New Orleans Pelicans, who are both in the play-in games tonight to try to be the #8 seed in their respective conferences.
Eastern Conference first round series odds
Drilling down further, the Bucks, as you might have guessed, are the favorites to come out of the East at +210 on BetMGM, followed by the Celtics (+340) and the Nets (+375). Top seed Miami Heat are only +450, the fourth-best odds in the conference.
a team that the Bucks have handled easily for several seasons
Much of that might have to do with the way the bracket sets up. The Bucks, despite being the #3 seed, look to have the easiest first round matchup, facing the beat-up Chicago Bulls, a team that the Bucks have handled easily for several seasons. DraftKings has Milwaukee at -1,000 to win the opening series.
Boston and Brooklyn have to face each other in what is shaping up to be a knock down, drag out series. The winner (DraftKings has the Celtics at -130) may be exhausted facing a potentially rested Milwaukee in the second round.
The 4-5 matchup between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Toronto Raptors is also expected to be extremely tight. Though the 76ers are favored (-180), finished three games ahead of the Raps in the standings, and have MVP candidate Joel Embiid, they also lost three out of four to their opponent north of the border. Plus, key bench player Matisse Thybulle won’t be able to play in Toronto because he only received one round of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Miami’s opponent is yet to be determined, as Cleveland takes on the Atlanta Hawks tonight for the right to face the heat in the first round. As such, there are no futures lines just yet on the Heat’s first series. Expect the #1 seed to be a heavy favorite, though. The Hawks, who made the Eastern Conference finals last year, but never really got going this season, are 1.5-point favorites tonight over a Cleveland team that is fighting the injury bug.
Western Conference first round series odds
In the Western Conference, it is the Phoenix Suns all day, all the time. They are as close to an odds-on favorite to win the conference as you’ll see, with BetMGM having them at +105 to make the NBA Finals. After them, it is the #2 seed Memphis Grizzlies and #3 seed Golden State Warriors at +500.
Perhaps the most interesting futures line is the Los Angeles Clippers at +1,600, just behind the #5 seed Utah Jazz and #6 seed Denver Nuggets, despite still having to win the play-in game tonight just to nab the bottom playoff seed for honor of facing the Suns in the first round.
The Clippers’ chances took a hit Friday when it was announced that star Paul George would miss the game against the Pelicans after testing positive for COVID-19. LA opened as a 5-point favorite, but has since dropped to 1 or 1.5, depending on where you look.
None of the first round series in the Western Conference are expected to be as close as some in the East. DraftKings has the tightest matchup as Golden State -250 to beat the Nuggets, likely because of uncertainty surrounding Steph Curry’s injured foot. In the meantime, reigning MVP and this year’s MVP front runner Nikola Jokic has carried the Nuggets, who have been without their other two best players all season.
The second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies and their scintillating phenom Ja Morant are at -330 on DraftKings in their series against the upstart Minnesota Timberwolves, who had the Target Center rocking in their play-in victory this week.
Utah, which has struggled down the stretch, is favored as the #5 seed over the #4 seed Dallas Mavericks. Again, injuries are probably a factor, as Dallas star Luka Doncic will miss at least the first game with a strained calf.
The Suns should be sizeable favorites against either the Clippers or the Pelicans, but as is evident by the future odds to win the conference, sportsbooks would probably make the Clippers less of a dog, especially if Paul George can return quickly.