After a crazy offseason, it’s time for the madness of the NBA’s regular season to begin. But how does off-court drama impact who enters the fray as title favorites and who can be considered long shots for an NBA championship?
The Boston Celtics have their NBA Eastern Conference odds lengthened as they recover from the shock suspension of their head coach Ime Udoka. Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets again appear to be genuine contenders despite the turmoil of Kevin Durant’s trade demand.
In making our NBA Eastern Conference predictions, stability is a factor. This has been a relatively tranquil summer for the Philadelphia 76ers, while the Miami Heat has retained their formidable core.
Yet is it the Milwaukee Bucks who deserves our vote for a second title in three years behind the continuing brilliance of Giannis Antetokounmpo?
Looking at the NBA Eastern Conference odds, the Boston Celtics aren’t just +275 favorites to top the standings for the second consecutive season. They’re +600 favorites with PointsBet (and almost everyone else) to go one better and win the franchise’s 18th title.
That’s understandable when a 1-2 punch of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown that’s still surrounded by Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Derrick White, and newly-acquired talented veteran point guard Malcolm Brogdon offers a little more offensive firepower. This group was superb defensively last season, giving up a league-low 104.5 points per contest, but was occasionally short of alternative scoring options, as only the 12th-best offensive squad. Brogdon should help nicely there.
Defensively, losing anchor Robert Williams, who had an awesome 102.3 defensive rating last season until the New Year, is a huge hindrance. Also, so much of this team’s success in the back half of last season was predicated on Udoka’s impact it’s probably fair to ask whether interim coach Joe Mazzulla can have the same impact.
Mazzulla is the fourth-favorite to be named NBA Coach of the Year at +1200 with Caesars. If Boston plays well, he will be in the running. Yet the instability raises questions over the Celtics’ ability to start well. There could be real value in taking odds of -140 on the C’s winning fewer than 55 regular season games.
He wanted to be traded away. Then he wanted the head coach and the GM fired. Now he’s back in Brooklyn, and there is no telling what Kevin Durant will do for the Nets, who refused to deal him cheap and now have that ticking time bomb of a discontented superstar. He’s +550 with BetMGM to become the NBA’s top scorer. Recall that last season. Durant notched 29.9 points per game in 55 appearances, just 0.7 off Joel Embiid’s league-leading mark. It’s worth taking the over on KD’s 2022-23 average points of 28 at +105 with PointsBet.
Not enough potential dramatics? There’s still Kyrie Irving … being Kyrie. Forrest Gump’s proverbial box of chocolates. And speaking of not knowing what you’re going to get, toss in Ben Simmons for good measure, following his extended hiatus.
It makes the Nets the biggest unknown in the whole of the NBA. Win or bust? They’re +350 with BetMGM to top the Eastern Conference. Much will hinge on Simmons’ recalibration in a different position that pushes his undoubted strengths to the fore and hides his deficiencies (three-pointers, anybody?). The heart says Brooklyn will combust again. The head knows any Durant-led squad has a shot.
The 2021 champs, led by the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo, are +700 with PointsBet to regain their crown. Antetokounmpo, who’s already got two league MVPs, is an all-around terror and is still improving. There’s a lot of value in taking him at +535 with Caesars to win a third MVP, and even more on another Defensive Player of the Year award (+800 with Caesars), with Rudy Gobert in a new role on a new team. His plus-minus points per possession was a career-high +6.5 last term, with a +26 rating in expected wins.
It was only a run of injuries, which dropped the team’s scoring from 115.6 points per game in the regular season to a miserly 102.8 in the playoffs. If they stay healthy, they’re legit contenders to go all the way again.
Joel Embiid is playing angry. That bodes well for the Philadelphia 76ers. James Harden has been making all the right noises. But it’s close to home, where they need to step up. Last term, the Sixers were an abysmal 6-10 against their division rivals. But with Boston and Brooklyn’s frailties, Philly are an excellent sleeper pick to top the Atlantic Division at +275 with BetMGM and perhaps merits a spot in the Contenders when we are making our NBA Eastern Conference predictions.
It’s hard to see past the Miami Heat topping the Southeast Division as prohibitive favorites, making them poor value, even at -160 with Caesars. Losing PJ Tucker, who had a +3.2 in plus-minus rating last season, to the Sixers hasn’t helped their defense.
But Kyle Lowry doesn’t deserve to be written off yet, and Jimmy Butler – with a new haircut - is really good when his knee holds up. So take a look at their NBA Eastern Conference odds of winning 50 games of +110 at PointsBet.
The only credible East sleeper to make some noise is the Toronto Raptors, who have returned almost an entire roster off a 48-win group. I really like the look of their odds of breaking into the top six seeds at +100 at PointsBet.
But the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers cry out, ' look at us.’ They’re both fringe teams on the up, with the Cavs’ addition of Donovan Mitchell elevating them into the conversation to be a 50-win team following their post-All-Star slide last term. I like the Cavs chances of being the two to the Bucks one in a 1st Milwaukee/2nd Cleveland in Central Division bet, which is +115 at BetMGM.
As for the rest, figure the Detroit Pistons’ young guns to take a leap and bring the Rookie of the Year prize to Jaden Ivey, who’s +400 with Caesars to be the freshman force.
Philadelphia 76ers to win
1st Milwaukee/2nd Cleveland
Atlanta under 46.5 wins
During the 2021-22 NBA season, the Miami Heat finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference during the regular season. However, the Boston Celtics won the Eastern Conference title during the playoffs and played in the NBA Finals.
The Eastern Conference Finals in 2023 don’t have a specific starting date. They will begin soon after both Eastern Conference Semifinals series are completed. However, the 2023 NBA Playoffs are scheduled to start on April 15.
In 2022, Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics was selected as the Eastern Conference Finals MVP. He was the first player to receive the award. Tatum averaged 25 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game over the seven-game series while leading the Celtics over the Miami Heat.
There are 15 teams in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. These teams are the Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, Charlotte Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors, and Washington Wizards.
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When assessing the NBA Eastern Conference odds, it’s hard to look past the internal cultural issues that afflict the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets. Other than the 2020 LA Lakers in the dystopian environment of the NBA bubble, there’s not been a champ in recent memory where there wasn’t genuine visible chemistry at play.
The Milwaukee Bucks had a 78.7% winning percentage when Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday were able to feature together at the close of the last regular season, and that illustrates the potency of the 2021 victors if health holds up - and potentially the great value in odds of +700 for the NBA Championship.
But there will be some intriguing private battles to watch: the Atlantic Division, with its heavyweight quartet of Brooklyn, Boston, Philadelphia, and Toronto, will be decided again by small margins. The 76ers are solid shots at +275.
For drama, the East will be compelling viewing. If you're interested in more NBA betting picks, be sure to read our guide: How To Bet on NBA Games, and visit our odds comparison tool to compare betting odds and take advantage of the latest sportsbook bonuses.
Written by Mark Woods - ROI: +7.96%
Mark has covered the NBA and professional basketball globally for 25 years and has written extensively on the sports betting market.
He has featured in various outlets, including ESPN, NBA.com, and the Chicago Tribune, as well as for the BBC and The Guardian in his native UK.