Sunday was a tough day for the reigning NBA conference champions. The Milwaukee Bucks – the current league title-holders – were ousted in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semis in Boston. Just a few hours later, the top-seeded Phoenix Suns were humiliated on their home floor by Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.
So, we’ll have an entirely new NBA Finals matchup later this summer. The victorious Celtics will look to win their first title since 2008, but even reaching the Finals will be no easy task. Standing in the Celtics’ way is the Miami Heat, who disposed of the injury-riddled Philadelphia 76ers in the last round.
These were the top two teams in the conference during the regular year. Miami’s 53 wins were their most in a single season since they won 54 in LeBron James’ final year with the team in 2013-14.
The Celtics finished 51-31, which was no small feat after the team’s inauspicious 25-25 start to the campaign.
Despite the fact that the Heat will hold home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals, NBA betting sites think the Celtics are more likely to win the series.
NBA betting sites have Boston as a fairly heavy -175 favorite to get past Miami and into the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010. However, they’re behind the Warriors for the NBA Championship odds.
NBA Eastern Conference Finals Odds
Celtics’ Impressive Run
The Celtics have earned their status as the odds-on favorite to win the East. Boston swept the Brooklyn Nets in the first round before their aforementioned seven-game elimination of the defending champion Bucks.
None of the four remaining teams in the league has faced a more daunting path to the conference finals, so it’s easy to see why oddsmakers are so bullish on Boston. The Celtics haven’t made the Finals in over a decade, but they’re no strangers to the Eastern Conference Finals.
At long last, the 2022 NBA playoffs have finally arrived. A few postseason races came down to the very final weekend, but the full 20-team field is officially set.
As you may expect:
NBA betting sites have also updated their championship odds to reflect the final standings. While the Phoenix Suns are deserving favorites to win it all out of the West, the NBA Eastern Conference odds look wide open. Three different teams have odds shorter than +400 to represent the East in the NBA Finals, and that doesn’t even include the No. 1 seed!
So, needless to say, the playoffs should be a lot of fun this spring. The team that wins the East will have a great chance at becoming the second consecutive conference champion to take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
In a deep field, which teams are the best bets to win the Eastern Conference?
Opening NBA Eastern Conference Betting Odds
The fact that the Milwaukee Bucks are the early favorites to get out of the East is hardly a surprise. Milwaukee stormed its way to its first championship in 50 years just last season.
You can argue this year’s iteration is just as good, if not better. The Bucks are worthy favorites, but they aren’t without some stiff competition. Brooklyn, Boston, Miami, and Philadelphia are all in the hunt.
As you can see, however, the NBA Eastern Conference odds say there’s a sizable gulf between the top-five and the bottom-five. Toronto, Chicago, Atlanta, Cleveland, and Charlotte are all massive long shots.
Milwaukee Bucks (+225)
Last summer, Giannis Antetokounmpo finally exorcised those pesky playoff demons while delivering a postseason performance for the ages. Despite suffering a potentially season-ending knee injury in the conference finals against Atlanta, Giannis returned for the Finals looking no worse for the wear.
All he did in the Bucks’ six-game elimination of the Suns was average north of 35 points and 13 rebounds per game en route to a Finals MVP trophy. No big deal.
So, we’ll see what the Greek Freak has in store for an encore. There is certainly no team in basketball equipped to keep Antetokounmpo under wraps, which is part of what makes Milwaukee such a compelling bet to repeat as champions.
Here’s how I voted for All-Defense:
C: Rudy Gobert
F: Bam Adebayo
F: Giannis Antetokounmpo
G: Mikal Bridges
G: Marcus Smart
C: Joel Embiid
F: Robert Williams III
F: Jaren Jackson Jr.
G: Fred VanVleet
G: Dejounte Murray
— Kevin O’Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) April 11, 2022
Can the Bucks improve their defense? Milwaukee slipped outside the top-10 in defensive efficiency for the first time in the Mike Budenholzer era this season. However, we saw them put the clamps on once the playoffs rolled around.
The Bucks improved from ninth in the league in D-rating last season to first among playoff teams. Part of the team’s 2021-22 defensive slip could have been caused by the long-term back injury to defensive anchor Brook Lopez, who is back and healthy just in time for postseason play.
The third-seeded Bucks are heavy favorites over the Bulls in the first round, and with good reason. Advancing to the next round likely sets up a date with Boston, followed by another trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. At +225, it’s hard not to like the value in the Bucks’ NBA Eastern Conference odds.
Brooklyn Nets (+350)
All season long, NBA betting sites have had a hard time figuring out what to make of the Nets. Brooklyn has endured quite the tumultuous campaign, yet the Nets will still enter the playoffs with favorable NBA Eastern Conference betting odds.
Despite the fact that they’ll have to try and get into the playoffs via the play-in tournament, Brooklyn still has the second-best odds to win the conference at +350.
This, of course, shouldn’t be the case. The Nets are dangerous because they have Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. When the stars are shining, opposing defenses are going to have an incredibly difficult time slowing this team down. Of course, beyond that, the roster is more than a little lacking.
Kevin Durant today:
10 Rebounds pic.twitter.com/pFgksSyn1G
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) April 10, 2022
The Nets are optimistic that Ben Simmons will be able to make his debut at some point in the playoffs if Brooklyn is lucky enough to qualify.
Of course, considering he hasn’t played competitive basketball in a full calendar year, it’s tough to know what to expect out of Simmons.
He didn’t exactly shine during the 76ers’ disastrous playoff run a year ago, either. Simmons joining the lineup would make the Nets’ middling defense a lot more sturdy, but this is still a major question mark.
Durant and Irving are good enough to carry the Nets to a deep playoff run, but I can’t shake the feeling that their NBA Eastern Conference Finals odds are overvalued, as well. If they get past Cleveland in the play-in, the Nets will have to survive the Celtics’ stingy defense in the first round. After that, they’d likely have to get through Milwaukee before a clash with either Miami or Philadelphia in the conference finals.
The Nets have the stars to do damage, but let’s not forget this team only finished 44-38 this season. At some point, we have to stop making excuses for why the Nets haven’t played like one of the NBA’s truly elite teams. I will gladly fade the Nets’ +350 NBA Eastern Conference odds entering the postseason.
Boston Celtics (+375)
We saw a few teams turn things around over the course of the season, but nobody did so quite as impressively as the Celtics did. Boston finished 51-31 and will enter the playoffs as the No. 2 seed. As recently as January, that kind of finish would have sounded like an impossibility. The Celtics were 19-21 on January 8.
Between that date and the end of the season, however, Ime Udoka’s squad went on a hellacious 33-10 run.
Defense is the key for the Celts. Boston yielded 104 points per 100 possessions on the year, good for the second-best mark in the league behind Golden State (103.9). What’s that they say about defense winning championships? The 2008 Celtics can attest to it.
Unfortunately, that defense won’t be at full strength.
Defensive anchor Robert Williams had to undergo surgery for a torn meniscus in his knee late last month. He could return at some point in the postseason, but he’s almost surely going to miss the entire first round. Williams, who is one of the league’s top shot-blockers, is easily the most important single member of Boston’s vaunted defense. His paint-patrolling presence will be missed, especially if the Celtics draw the Nets in round one.
Without him, Boston will have to rely heavily on Al Horford, Daniel Theis, and Grant Williams to protect the rim. While I’m a believer in the Celtics after their dramatic turnaround, the absence of Williams won’t be easy to overcome.
If he can return more quickly than expected from his knee injury, the Celtics look like a well-rounded outfit and a legit contender out of the East.
If not, I’m very skeptical of the Celtics’ chances to get past teams like Milwaukee and Philadelphia in the conference. Given the uncertainty, I’m not a huge fan of Boston’s +375 NBA Eastern Conference betting odds.
Miami Heat (+500)
You won’t often see a top seed enter the playoffs with long-shot odds to win the conference, but that’s the case this year with Miami. The Heat have just the fourth-best NBA Eastern Conference odds despite finishing the season with an East-leading 52 wins.
I don’t really blame oddsmakers for this one. I can’t really buy what the Heat are selling, either. This is an experienced, well-rounded team, but the Heat also lack a true high-end superstar.
Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo are a tier below the likes of Antetokounmpo, Durant, and Joel Embiid. Miami did make a shocking run to the Finals in the NBA bubble just two years ago, but even that seemed rather flukey at the time.
Did you see what Dipo did last night? ? pic.twitter.com/28Z976vMjH
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) April 11, 2022
One area of strength that could come in handy for the Heat in these playoffs is three-point shooting. Miami led the league on the year, knocking down 37.9 percent of their triples. Butler isn’t much of a threat from beyond, but Miami can space the floor with Tyler Herro, Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson, and Max Strus.
Butler and Adebayo are both excellent playmakers capable of finding those open shooters, as well.
At +500 NBA Eastern Conference odds, the Heat are a legitimate sleeper to win the conference despite the fact that they’ll have home-court advantage throughout. Of course, it’s not hard to forget the Bucks swept this team out of the playoffs in the quarterfinal round just a season ago.
Philadelphia 76ers (+550)
If you’re looking for a wild card betting option to get out of the East, look no further than Philadelphia. The 76ers dropping to the No. 4 seed for the playoffs may actually help them. This means Philly will only have to navigate one of Boston or Milwaukee in order to reach the Finals.
After a first-round date with the Raptors, the Sixers will likely face Miami in round two. As mentioned, the Heat are far from the strongest contender in the East this year. The Sixers’ decision to trade for James Harden in January was a sign that Philadelphia is trying to win immediately at all costs.
The Embiid/Harden pairing has proven to be a dangerous one, and the Sixers do have enough firepower elsewhere to give teams matchup nightmares. Not every other team has capable scorers like Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris serving as third and fourth options, respectively.
Getting past Toronto won’t be easy, of course.
The 76ers’ top defender, Matisse Thybulle, is ineligible to play games in Canada as a result of his Covid vaccine status. That takes a bite out of Philly’s defense, but the Sixers are still justifiable favorites to get past the Raptors in the opening round.
Whether any defense can slow the Sixers’ star duo remains to be seen. The 76ers have outscored their opponents by a whopping 15.9 points per 100 possessions, with Embiid and Harden on the floor together. That’s a winning formula, and we can expect both to play heavy minutes come playoff time.
Defense is a bigger question mark for Philadelphia, especially given Harden’s infamous transgressions on that end of the floor.
Still, the 76ers are fully capable of making a deep playoff run this season if things break their way. At the current +550 NBA Eastern Conference betting odds, there is plenty of upside in banking on the Sixers to figure things out at the right time.
Toronto Raptors (+2800)
The Raptors are only three years removed from winning an NBA title, yet this year’s team looks quite a bit different than that one. Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet were important contributors to that championship team, but that squad also had Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry leading the way. Obviously, both are in different cities now.
Toronto is a stellar 15-7 overall since the beginning of March.
Like the Celtics, the Raptors rebounded from a mediocre start to finish the season in impressive fashion. One issue for this team is its lack of depth. Nick Nurse relies incredibly heavily on his starters, which could prove problematic given the rigors involved in making a deep playoff run. All five of Toronto’s starters ranked inside the top-30 in minutes per game this season.
Scottie Barnes is everything, everywhere, all at once — here’s my deep dive on the Raptors’ remarkable rookiehttps://t.co/XZslgvvJ8o
— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) April 8, 2022
The Raptors’ starting five is a good one, but that wear-and-tear could come back to haunt them before long. Toronto is a team to watch for the future, but I’m bearish on their chances to escape the East this season.
Chicago Bulls (+4000)
The Bulls are essentially the opposite of the Celtics and Raptors. Chicago was one of the feel-good stories of the league earlier in the year, but they enter the postseason in dismal form. Chicago is just 7-13 since the beginning of March, and the five teams with worse records in that span are all bound for the draft lottery.
Chicago’s defense has collapsed since Lonzo Ball was lost to a season-ending knee injury. He won’t be back for the playoffs, either. The Bulls deserve some credit for ending a four-year playoff drought, but this team will likely have to wait at least another year to make much noise in the postseason. The Bulls finished the season just 1-14 against the top-four finishers in the conference.
That is…far from ideal. Considering Chicago will have to get through some combination of those same teams to reach the Finals, I feel pretty good about writing off Billy Donovan’s squad as a viable betting option. Pass on betting on the Bulls this postseason. Even their NBA Eastern Conference Finals odds are a bit inflated.
Atlanta Hawks (+5000)
The Hawks made an unexpected run to the Eastern Conference Finals a season ago, only to fall to the Bucks. Atlanta was well ahead of schedule at that point, but they’ve come crashing back to earth this season.
The Hawks finished as the No. 9 seed in the East:
Which means a date with Charlotte in the first round of the play-in tourney. Atlanta will have to win two elimination games just to advance to the first round of the playoffs. Atlanta can shoot the three, and any team with Trae Young leading the charge is dangerous. The Hawks’ three-point shooting percentage (37.4) ranked second in the league behind Miami.
However, the Hawks’ defense will be the reason they’re unlikely to make a second straight trip to the conference finals. Atlanta yielded 112.1 points per 100 possessions this season.
That was the fourth-worst mark in basketball and ranked dead-last among playoff teams.
You can survive a leaky defense during the regular season. You won’t be so lucky once the playoffs roll around, however.
Cleveland Cavaliers (+8000)
As has been the case all year long, the Cavaliers will face their fair share of doubters now that they’ve reached the postseason. Even qualifying for the play-in tournament is enough to make the 2021-22 season a rousing success in Cleveland, especially given the low preseason expectations most had for this team.
The Cavs have been ransacked by injuries in recent weeks, however, which will likely cost them in their quest to continue to defy the odds.
Jarrett Allen is expected to miss the team’s first play-in game against Brooklyn because of a finger injury. Cleveland went 7-11 after Allen hurt his finger late in the year. Evan Mobley is back after missing a few games himself, but there’s a reason the Cavs are still underdogs to Brooklyn in this game.
Per Coach Bickerstaff, #Cavs F/C Evan Mobley will see action tonight. pic.twitter.com/lxPRGefgDb
— Joe Gabriele (@CavsJoeG) April 8, 2022
The Cavs are another team with a bright future, but their immediate future is less shiny. Pass on the Cavaliers and their +8000 NBA Eastern Conference betting odds this year.
Charlotte Hornets (+25000)
Charlotte, which snuck into the play-in tournament as the lowest seed in the East, will face an uphill battle just to get to the first round.
As is the case with the Hawks:
The Hornets will have to win two games without a loss just for the rights to advance to face either Miami or Boston in round one.
Good luck with that. It would take several major miracles for Charlotte to emerge victorious from the Eastern Conference.
Who Will Win the Eastern Conference?
As mentioned, there are a handful of teams out there with a legitimate chance to represent the East in the NBA Finals.
The reigning conference champion Bucks are worthy favorites, but they will have their work cut out for them if they’re to win the East for the second straight season. Milwaukee is certainly the best bet in the field, but you can get strong betting value on several other contenders, as well.
Here is how I will rank my favorite options to win the Eastern Conference title in 2022: