NBA East Division Futures: Can the Raptors Hold off the Celtics?
All-Star Weekend is over. The playoff race is on. This week, we’re looking at where the league is as the stretch run begins, and we start with a look at Eastern Conference Division futures.
Divisions are usually fairly settled by this time, but there’s real drama in the East and some genuinely captivating underdog bets. Let’s dive in.
Toronto Raptors (-240): Toronto’s been the best team in the East this year. The Raptors’ net rating is better than Boston’s, they’ve had a tougher schedule for most of the season, they have better balance offensively and defensively, they have a better bench, and so on.
They’ve also had rotten luck with Kyle Lowry getting injured after the All-Star Break. He had to deal with injuries in 2015 and 2016, and in 2017 he missed all of March, which cost them the No. 1 seed. Everything’s gone their way this season. If you think that’s only setting them up for the doubly painful fall, then fading them might be the play.
Boston Celtics (+180): Their offense is hot garbage, but they are right there with Toronto. They’re just two games back (although three games in the loss column), tied in the season series for tiebreaker, and a half-game up in division record if it comes down to that. The Celtics were playing their worst basketball before the All-Star Break; if you’re going to buy low, now’s the time.
Further, Boston has a habit of getting worse offensively after the break but better defensively:
The (Very) Longshots
Philadelphia 76ers (+3300): I mean, I can’t in good conscience recommend this, but . . . if the Celtics were to absolutely crater and the Raptors suffered an injury (or vice versa), you never know. They’re nine back in the loss column. So, not great. But Philly’s been on a tear the past few months. It’s at least “hey, shot in the dark” and not “total madness.”
The “LOL” Brigade
New York Knicks (+50000): Their tragic number for the division is six. That could be eliminated by the end of next week.
Brooklyn Nets (+50000): Remember when they were going to be a fringe playoff team? That was a fun delusion people had.
Washington Wizards (-240): The Wizards have been red hot, particularly since John Wall went down with a knee injury. They have a four-game lead in the loss column over Miami, but that’s not insurmountable. That said, if Wall gets back in good order, if he and Marcin Gortat don’t throw hands, and if the Wizards stop having games where they are just stunningly incompetent, they should breeze to the division title.
Since the odds of the Wizards accomplishing all three of those goals are somewhere between not good and astronomical, it’s important to remember they really need only two of those things. Their competition is soft, and they have 1) the most star power, 2) the most experience, and 3) the most consistent team — as sad as that is.
Miami Heat (+200): The Heat were hot on Washington’s trail two weeks ago and then stumble-tripped their way back to eighth in the conference. They could make a run, but it’s going to take real urgency. Notably, their closing schedule is yogurt. They face nothing but lottery squads from March 29 until the final two games against OKC and Toronto; both will likely be resting.
Three Bad Teams
Charlotte Hornets (+2500): They are 1-14 in the past two seasons in games decided by three points or less. You could try to lose games in such situations and wind up with a better record.
Atlanta Hawks (+25000): Not even if Dennis Schroder swapped minds with Chris Paul like in “17 Again.”
Orlando Magic (+25000): Nope, not even a little bit. Just no.
I Can’t Believe This Is a Three-Team Race
Cleveland Cavaliers (-330): This is the wrong time to back the Cavs. It’s not just the poor return on investment. It’s not just the way their season has gone. It’s also common sense: Why buy now after the Cavs’ new-look roster went on a two-game winning streak? This team still has a lot to figure out. These odds aren’t worth the risk.
Indiana Pacers (+450): I can see Cleveland falling back and the Pacers making this interesting; I just can’t see them actually getting square and then outpacing LeBron. This would realistically mean a LeBron James-led team falls back further than fifth in the East. I’ve been Captain Doubt-LeBron this year, but not even I hate my wallet that much.
Milwaukee Bucks (+850): They probably should be a better bet here, but they’re just too inconsistent, and they have a four-game road trip vs. Western Conference playoff teams in late March and early April.
Detroit Pistons (+1600): Don’t go anywhere near this.
The Lone Tank
Chicago Bulls (+25000): Me if you think about making this bet.
Photo credit Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports