The NBA Playoffs don’t tip until the weekend, but we have a good idea who the true contenders are despite the immense parity we’ve seen in the Association — especially in the Western Conference — throughout the regular season.
Our NBA writers came through with their favorite NBA Finals matchups, outright championship winner bets, conference futures and more ahead of Round 1.
Check out their postseason predictions below.
NBA Playoffs Futures Odds & Picks
|Click on a pick to skip ahead|
|NBA Championship Winner Prop|
|NBA Championship Winner Prop|
|NBA Championship Winner Prop|
|NBA Finals Matchup|
|Eastern Conference Winner Prop|
|Western Conference MVP|
NBA Championship Winner Prop
|Pick||Finals Winner: First-Time Champion|
Four of the top five seeds in the Western Conference have never won an NBA title: Nuggets, Grizzlies, Suns, and Clippers. Dodging the Warriors is the biggest threat in the West, but they were 11-30 on the road this season. Getting one of those four in the NBA Finals is the top priority.
The Nets are the only Eastern Conference team in the playoffs without a title in the NBA (they have two ABA championships). A surprising playoff run from their balanced roster would go a long way for this bet. Getting the Suns or Nuggets in the NBA Finals could create a hedging opportunity with whoever comes out of the East.
Outside of the Bucks and Celtics, the Suns have the third-best odds to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. In eight games with Kevin Durant, the Suns are 8-0 and had what would be the best Offensive and Defensive Rating in the league. Could this be the year Chris Paul finally gets his Championship ring?
Do not sleep on the Nuggets either. They have not had much success in the postseason, but with a healthy lineup and the back-to-back MVP, the best team in the West should not be +1100 to win it all. They will have home-court advantage throughout the West playoffs and have a 34-7 home record.
Without Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke, it may take a lot for the Grizzlies to make a deep run despite being the No. 2 seed. They will have their work cut out for them against the Lakers in the first round. The Clippers also can give the Suns a run for their money if Paul George is healthy. There are so many opportunities to get a first-time champion into the NBA Finals from the Western Conference.
NBA Championship Winner Prop
|Pick||Finals Winner: Pacific Division|
The Western Conference is relatively wide open compared to the top-heavy East.
There are four teams in the West that can make a legitimate title run and three of them play in the same division (maybe four if the Clippers were fully healthy). With all of its teams in the playoffs, the Pacific Division is the biggest threat to produce a Conference champion — especially in a Western Conference without a clear hierarchy.
The Suns are the betting favorite and rightly so. They were one of the best teams in the league before Devin Booker missed two months with a groin strain. Then they added the best offensive player in the league at the deadline.
I have some questions about the defending champions and their massive road struggles this season, but even with the question marks surrounding the Golden State Warriors, they’re undeniably in the mix until proven otherwise.
The Lakers’ chances could evaporate at the twist of an ankle, but the threat of a title run can’t be ignored for them either, and for similar reasons to Golden State — they’ve been there before.
The other two teams — the Clippers and Kings — could surprise us in Round 1. Regardless of the first-round outcomes, at least two Pacific Division teams are guaranteed to move on to the second round. If the Lakers beat the Grizzlies, the Pacific would have three of the four teams left in the playoffs.
At +190, that’s an implied probability of 31.3%, which is low considering the Pacific represents 62.5% of the current Western Conference playoff picture. If any of our teams make the Finals, that provides us with the option of hedging with the Eastern Conference champion to lock in a profit.
NBA Championship Winner Prop
|Pick||Finals Winner: Eastern Conference|
All the focus right now is on the uncertainty in the West. Are the Nuggets a worthy No. 1-seed? Are the Suns the right favorite? Can the surprising Kings or Grizzlies take advantage of a soft year? Could the Warriors or Lakers ride a nice draw all the way to the Finals?
All good questions, and it makes sense to wonder what to do with a conference with so much parity. That’s why I researched NBA parity and what it’s meant throughout league history. It turns out seeding still largely holds in many of these conferences with a high level of parity.
But there’s a bigger, more important conclusion: whatever team comes out of the conference with all the parity almost always loses in the Finals.
Makes sense, right? After all, the entire reason there’s parity is because the best teams are in the other conference. That’s exactly how I see the playoff landscape. I’ve got the Bucks and Celtics a level above the field.
Both teams have elite championship level defenses. Milwaukee has the best player in the world, and Boston has incredible shooting, depth, and the sting of last year’s defeat. I put Philadelphia third too, with the presumptive MVP and James Harden, the best 1-2 punch in the East. I make the Sixers a distant third best in the East, but they’re probably also third best in the league.
One of those three teams comes out of the East, and I trust them to be a sizable and correct favorite in the Finals. Any of the three would have home court advantage, and they’ll likely have the better defense and maybe the best player on the court. Any one of these three teams will be better than -130 favorites in the Finals.
You can pick your favorite East team or build a position around a couple. I’ll just keep it easy and take the whole East.
By Chris Baker
Being able to get the No. 1 seed of the Western conference at about 8.33% implied probability seems too good to be true in my opinion. This is a severe discount on what has been the most consistently good team in the NBA outside of the Milwaukee Bucks. The reason we are fortunate enough to get this discount is because the Nuggets chose to essentially coast to finish their season.
The narrative/media have been freaking out as the Nuggets dropped games to teams like the Spurs and the Rockets, but that wouldn’t worry me as much as them getting handled by the best teams in the NBA. That is absolutely not what has happened this season, even if you include their last 15-20 games. With Jokic in the lineup, the Nuggets went 12-8 over their last 20 games, including an impressive 8-3 against winning teams over that same stretch.
It’s pretty clear to anyone who follows this team that they get up for big games and they play down against lesser teams in certain spots. They’ve handled the Warriors, Suns, Celtics, and Bucks throughout this season and I don’t value the Kevin Durant acquisition as much as everyone else seemingly does. People are quick to forget just how awful Durant was in the Celtics series last year and I believe the Nuggets will get past them.
Additionally, the Nuggets have begun to figure out some solutions for their bench issues given the emergence of Christian Braun and Peyton Watson late in the season. This is massive as we already know the Nuggets starters are historically good with Jokic on the floor. With Jokic on the floor, the Nuggets have a +13.2 net-rating on the season.
I view this as the best team in the West, being able to grab +1100 on a No. 1-seed with the should be three-time MVP is extremely valuable and rare so I will capitalize on it.
By Jim Turvey
|Pick||Golden State Warriors|
Believe me, this pains me as much as it pains you. I’d LOVE to see a new team cutting down the nets, but, with the odds board as is, the Warriors are my favorite value.
The crux of this play is just how perfectly the bracket broke for them. By drawing the Kings, they have the least experienced first round opponent, and while Golden 1 Center should be en fuego, it’s a short and easy trip for this Warriors team.
The case against the Warriors mostly centers around their inability to win and the road in the regular season, and the fact that, unless the Lakers go on a run, the Warriors will likely be the road team each series this postseason. But do we believe the Warriors truly became listless away from Chase Center this season?
Personally, I see it as very likely a combination of two factors: Knowing that they can hit the cruise button a bit, and their young players. This hasn’t been nearly as pronounced an issue in seasons past, and this was the season that they decided to try to bridge the gap and give serious minutes to their “next generation.” Of course that bridge looks more rickety than the bridge in Shrek, and the youngsters who the Warriors haven’t already moved on from, should be getting far fewer minutes this postseason.
Even in Round 2, the Warriors will be solid favorites, with the Lakers looking anything but strong and the Grizzlies lineup having taken more wounds than the Black Knight in Holy Grail (really leaning into the movie analogy thing today).
In the Western Conference Finals, they would likely match up with either the Denver Nuggets or Phoenix Suns, either of whom will have just come out of a potentially knock-down, drag-out battle with the other. The Suns, in particular, have nearly as many miles on their legs as the Warriors, so having to come through that half the bracket is an even bigger deal.
The top four in the East (and I do consider the Cavaliers just a hair down from the Big Three) are going to war in Rounds 2 and 3, just like last year when the Celtics (namely Jayson Tatum) clearly looked worn down by the time they got to the Warriors.
Do I think the Bucks or Celtics are more likely to win the title than the Warriors? Of course! But do I think they are both more than three times as likely to win the title as the Warriors? No, so I’ll take the Warriors +950 to win yet another title.
NBA Finals Matchup
By Matt Moore
|Pick||Suns vs. Celtics|
This is a boring outcome at a longer number.
The Boston Celtics are the best team in the Eastern Conference. You can throw the Bucks’ record at me all you want, but two things are true: the underlying numbers that are more reliable than record not only point to Boston but indicate they should be heavier favorites, and they match up well with Milwaukee.
I believe Milwaukee would have won last year’s second-round series if Khris Middleton is healthy. But this Celtics team is better, and this Bucks team is slightly worse. Boston has the shooting variance to overcome the Bucks’ interior size, they don’t rely on a guard that Jrue Holiday can disrupt, and Boston doesn’t run much pick and roll (relatively) which is the strength of Milwaukee’s defense.
Phoenix is undefeated with Kevin Durant. I have all sorts of questions — their depth, their defense, Durant and Chris Paul’s health, their cohesion — but they lucked into a series vs. the Clippers without Paul George (I would bet Clippers if he were healthy), then likely get a Nuggets team that struggles with guards who can create and has a worse bench than Phoenix. The other side of the bracket is a mash up of teams that will either have to play starters heavy minutes (Golden State), are banged up (Memphis), and aren’t that good to begin with (Lakers).
So we put the two teams I think should be 1 and 2 in title odds together and take our +650, with some opportunities for mid-series hedges in the conference finals should they arrive there.
Eastern Conference Winner Prop
Chalky pick and while I can already hear the groans through the screen, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad bet. The Milwaukee Bucks were the class of the Eastern Conference and had the best record in the NBA at 58-24. The main reason why I’m backing the Bucks now in this spot is this price will only shrink as we get deeper into the first round.
A case could be made that the Bucks were the best team in the East last season but because they didn’t take care of business in the home stretch, they fell to third which set up an eventual second-round matchup with the Boston Celtics. They ended up losing in seven games and sorely missed All-Star Khris Middleton for secondary scoring.
This year, it’s shaping up to be a great spot for the Bucks because now they’ll have an easy 1 vs 8 first-round matchup and then play the winner of the Cavaliers-Knicks first-round matchup, another series that should be quick work for Milwaukee. By this logic, the Bucks have a straight-forward path to the Eastern Conference Final, which will likely be a rematch with the Celtics or another tough series vs the Philadelphia 76ers.
While those potential series may be a toss-up in certain bettors’ eyes, the fact remains the Bucks will be favored vs either team in a seven-game series and that current offering of +125 to win the East will be long gone. It’s a boring bet that may not yield a huge result but once we get to the nitty-gritty of the Conference Finals, you’ll be thankful you’ve got this wager in.
Western Conference MVP
The Lakers certainly didn’t look impressive getting out of the play-in, but Los Angeles has quietly built a nice resume since remaking its team at the trade deadline.
Since D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Malik Beasley joined the Lakers, the entire profile of this team has changed. The Lakers ranked sixth in Net Rating since Feb. 11. They had the No. 2 Defensive Rating and led the league in Defensive EFG. The Lakers also transformed overnight into a top-10 rebounding team. This is the formula that mucked things up, defended hard, and won with size in LA’s bubble title run. Vanderbilt has been the perfect fit, and Austin Reaves has broken out as the Lakers’ third-best player.
Per Pivot Analysis, LeBron James and Anthony Davis have a +5.5 Net Rating on the court together. The Lakers were -12.2 Net in 992 minutes with both off the court, something that should almost never happen in the playoffs.
Add either Vanderbilt or Reaves to that duo and the Net Rating leaps past +20. Add both and it’s +25.8. Now that the Lakers have found the right pieces and gotten the stars healthy, this lineup is dominating. It’s also been great late, like it was Tuesday night, with the Lakers third in fourth-quarter Net Rating for the season.
Look, the Lakers aren’t great. But the West is weak and wide open, and Los Angeles got a dream draw. The Grizzlies have a similar profile but no LeBron or Brow, and the Kings and Warriors are flawed without much defense and don’t match up physically with L.A.
Can James and Davis stay healthy, and could they beat the Suns or Nuggets? I’m not sure. But if the Lakers get to the WCF, this ticket gives us multiple hedge options. We’ve seen LeBron come out of a bad conference before, and if the Lakers win the West, it’ll have to be because he played like the MVP. With LA at +900 to win the West, +1500 for MVP is far too long a number for James here.