NBA: Can any Team Challenge Boston and Milwaukee in the East?

NBA: Can any Team Challenge Boston and Milwaukee in the East?

The Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks are heavily favoured to win the Eastern Conference right now. The Miami Heat won the east last year after being greater than +3000 underdogs at one point in the playoffs last season. So which teams outside the betting favourites have a shot this year?

Quick Take

  • Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks heavily favoured to win east
  • East race with less than 30 games to go
  • Teams in position to upset the favourites

Two-team race right now

With All-Star Weekend gone, each team has about 25 games remaining on their schedule before the Play-In Tournament begins on April 16. Right now, the Eastern Conference looks like it is the Boston Celtics’ conference to lose. Currently sitting at 45-12, the Celtics have an eight-game lead on the rest of the conference. The 36-19 Cleveland Cavaliers have the next best record in the east.

Despite their eight-game lead, the Celtics are only slight betting favourites to win the conference on NBA betting sites. The Celtics have +120 odds to win the east on BetRivers. The Milwaukee Bucks are right behind them at +225 to win the conference. The Bucks are 37-21. The Knicks, the team with the fourth best record, currently have the third best odds at +700 odds.

Problems in the conference

If you are thinking about betting on a team to win the east, a bet on a team other than the Celtics or Bucks looks like a losing bet at the moment. Yes, the Celtics have had trouble in the playoffs over the years. Yes, the Bucks are still figuring out how to win games with star guard Damian Lillard on the team. But almost all the other top teams in the east are dealing with big problems.

Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid “underwent a left knee procedure” earlier this month, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Embiid has not played since January 30, but there is “belief that the door remains open for Embiid's return in the regular season.” The 76ers will have a hard time getting out of the east if Embiid returns late in the regular season. It is tough to imagine the 76ers winning the conference if Embiid misses half the regular season now that James Harden is no longer on the team. 

Two of the best players on the Knicks are injured right now. According to head coach Tom Thibodeau via an article by ESPN, Knicks forward Julius Randle has not resumed, as of February 21, basketball activities after suffering a dislocated right shoulder in a game against the Miami Heat in January. Randle did not “rule out season-ending surgery.” Recently acquired forward OG Anunoby is still out after going through surgery to remove a loose bone fragment in his right elbow. The Knicks will probably have close to no shot if one of them does not return near 100%. They traded a couple of their better players to get Anunoby, and Randle is one of their core players.

Potential spoilers in the east

The only teams outside the Knicks and 76ers with a realistic shot right now are the Cavaliers at +800, Miami Heat at +1400, Indiana Pacers at +4000, and Orlando Magic at +10000, based on how the regular season has gone so far. The Cavaliers are having a solid regular season with a 36-19 record, but their roster is similar to the team that lost 4-1 to the Knicks in the playoffs and most of their players have not had a ton of success in the playoffs yet. They are still in the mix and worth considering because an injury could ruin everything for one of the betting favourites. 

The Heat and Pacers are the other two teams that should have a decent shot if the betting favourites run into any problems. The Heat have found a way to be more than competitive in the playoffs over the last few years, regardless of their odds. The Heat won the eastern conference two times in the last four seasons. With Pascal Siakam on the roster, the Pacers could surprise some teams in the east once the playoffs begin because they should be a lot more accustomed to playing with Siakam by then. If you have faith in the Cavaliers, Heat, Pacers, or Magic, right now is a solid time to place a bet before the odds change.