Compared to many conferences in the United States’ major sports, the NBA’s Eastern Conference hasn’t been tightly contested in recent years. The team with LeBron James has won the conference seven years in a row. That’s four seasons with the Miami Heat and three with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
James’ Cavs are unsurprisingly the favorites to get back to the NBA Finals. However, the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas trade shook up the top of the East, and there’s now a bit more uncertainty as to how things will play out.
Of the best bookies for United States’ online betting, the trio of Bovada, MyBookie.ag and GTBets have all released their Eastern Conference championship odds. So let’s preview the race for a spot in the NBA Finals. We will highlight the favorites as well as some dark horses and then decide which of them has the most favorable odds for our betting predictions and picks.
Eastern Conference Championship Favorites
Cleveland Cavaliers (best odds at -140 with GTBets)
The Cavs are led by James, the 32-year-old superstar who has done a great job staving off Father Time. After the trade with the Celtics, the Cavs’ roster around him looks better on paper than it did before. Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder will contribute positively and should more than make up for losing Kyrie Irving. Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson are still very impactful players.
Of course, Thomas’ hip is the big question here. Rumblings around the team suggest the injury is pretty significant and may keep him out for a chunk of the season. If he comes back limited, Cleveland’s ability to defend the elite point guards of the East (like John Wall, Irving and Kyle Lowry) in the postseason will be a concern.
The Cavs’ defense overall is also a worry. James has let his defense slip over the past few seasons. It used to be something he could turn on in the postseason, but it doesn’t seem like he can do that quite as often anymore. There are several below-average defenders on the Cleveland roster that could cause trouble for the team.
Boston Celtics (+230 at MyBookie)
Boston has been slowly inching itself toward contention over the past few years. This season, it appears the team is finally ready to challenge the Cavaliers. The Celtics shouldn’t be the conference favorites, but they have a dangerous trio of Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford that will give all their opponents trouble.
The X-factors for this team are how well it can rebound and how ready their young bench numbers are for high-stakes moments. Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier and Semi Ojeleye all have plenty of talent, but they will likely be playing against LeBron James in the playoffs. Can they rise to the challenge?
Washington Wizards (+1400 at GTBets)
The Wizards are basically bringing back their 2016-17 squad for this season, which is a good thing. The starting lineup of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat was a great five-man combination that kept the team near the top of the conference despite a weak bench.
Speaking of that bench, there are some new faces, especially Jodie Meeks, Tim Frazier and Mike Scott, that should strengthen the unit slightly. A healthy year of rim-protecting center Ian Mahinmi could also do wonders.
Don’t underestimate the power of chemistry. Washington has a tried and true core of players that have experience together, plus Wall, Beal and Porter are all still improving.
Best Eastern Conference Championship Dark Horse Bets
Toronto Raptors (+2500 at Bovada)
Bovada has the Raptors as just the sixth-most likely East team to win the conference, which seems disrespectful. Toronto has been a top-four seed in its last four consecutive seasons and didn’t suffer any massive losses during the offseason.
Overall, the Raptors should keep their position as a top-four team in the conference. They have a great backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, along with a solid duo of big men in Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas.
The biggest question mark facing the team for this year is whether it can generate better ball movement. The Raptors registered the fewest assists in the league last year, and their offense often becomes very predictable in the playoffs.
Miami Heat (+6600 at Bovada)
The Heat are a bit of a mystery heading into 2017-18. Last season, they had an 11-30 record in the first half of the year, then reversed that to 30-11 over the season’s final 41 games. They accomplished that impressive second half despite losing Dion Waiters to injury in March and being without Justise Winslow for most of the year. Almost every player on the team made huge improvements to their game in the middle of the season.
Miami did also add former Celtics big man Kelly Olynyk to the crew, which has a good mix of veterans and youngsters.
So which team will this season’s Heat resemble more closely, the first half one or the second half one from last year? I have no idea, but it might be worth betting on the Heat for the chance that head coach Erik Spoelstra continues to work wonders with this squad.
Our Preview’s Eastern Conference Championship Picks & Betting Predictions
- Given the huge gap in betting odds between the top two and everybody else, the Wizards (best +1400 with GTBets) seem like the best choice here. As mentioned above, their superior chemistry could be a factor in potential playoff upsets versus either the Cavs or Celtics. Wall, Beal and Porter is also a great trio that has the chance to become even better.
- Of the dark horses, the Heat (biggest at +6600 with Bovada) would be a smart bet. They showed they could be an elite team for half of last season and none of their key contributors are on the decline. Erik Spoelstra is a great coach who has experience deep into the playoffs, even if it was with much more talented rosters.
Jared is a lifelong sports fan and writer whose specialist subject is NBA. A 2015 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Jared has been a sought-after freelance sports writer. In addition to his valuable USA Betting contributions, he has also written for other top media outlets.