NBA Playoff Odds: Analyzing the Eastern Conference Postseason Race
Getty Images. Pictured (L-R): Terry Rozier #3 of the Charlotte Hornets, Malcolm Brogdon #7 of the Indiana Pacers, Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards.
With less than a month left in the NBA regular season, the race for the postseason gets more interesting by the day. Since the NBA added a play-in tournament allowing two extra teams the opportunity to make the playoffs, the postseason race is deeper than we’ve seen in past years.
With sportsbooks still offering odds on teams to make or miss the playoffs, let’s take a look at which teams have the best chance to make the postseason in each conference.
Below I’ll tackle to Eastern Conference, but you can check out my analysis on the Western Conference here.
New York Knicks
Playoff Odds: Yes -1500 | No +790 (FanDuel)
The Knicks are in one of the most ideal positions of any team in the league. They are outperforming their low preseason expectations but don’t have championship aspirations, which means they’re essentially playing with house money.
Not only are the Knicks in position to make the playoffs, entering Tuesday they are fourth in the East and have a legitimate chance to attain home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Tom Thibodeau has completely changed the culture of the Knicks, taking them from 23rd in Defensive Rating (113) to a team that is third in Defensive Rating (108.2) in just one season.
They’re consistently holding teams to a league low 33.9% on 3-point field goals despite allowing the sixth-highest frequency of 3-point field goal attempts. I expected that to eventually regress, but it hasn’t — the Knicks are holding teams to the second-lowest eFG% (51.5%) and are in the top five in opponent field goal percentage from every area of the floor.
New York’s weakness this season has been its 21st-ranked offense, which scores just 110.5 points per 100 possessions in non garbage time minutes, according to Cleaning the Glass. However, the Knicks have been on a tear recently, scoring 122.8 points per 100 possessions over the past two weeks, which ranks second in the NBA.
Post All-Star break, the Knicks rank second in 3-point percentage, making 40.4% of their attempts. The hot shooting has been a big part of their late season surge as they’ve shot greater than 40% from deep in 11 of their past 15 games.
They’ve been able to win games even when they don’t shoot the ball well, though. In their April 12 game against the Lakers they won by 15 despite shooting just 5-of-27 (18.5%) from behind the arc.
The Knicks have just 10 games remaining, their magic numbers are three for the play-in tournament and nine to secure the No. 6 seed.
They don’t have an easy schedule ahead of them with a West Coast road trip on the horizon in which they face the Nuggets, Suns, Clippers and Lakers in a four game stretch.
Nevertheless, they have favorable matchups against the Rockets, Bulls without Zach LaVine and should be able to win enough games to clinch their first playoff spot since the 2012-13 season.
Before the trade deadline, the Knicks were -162 to make the postseason and that has ballooned to -1500. If you are looking to buy in on the Knicks’ success, you’ve missed your window to capitalize.
Playoff Odds: Yes -114 | No -106 (FanDuel)
Entering Tuesday, the Pacers are just one game behind the Charlotte Hornets for the No. 8 seed in the East. Oddsmakers have the Pacers favored to make the postseason, but they are also -106 (51.46% implied odds) to miss.
The Hornets are dealing with injuries that could drop them out of the playoffs and the Pacers have the easiest strength of schedule among the teams they are competing against in the 7-10 range in the East. Despite that, there’s a number of things that would make me hesitant to bet them to make the playoffs.
The Pacers are missing Myles Turner for the foreseeable future with a partial tear of his plantar plate in the great toe of his right foot. His loss is huge for the Pacers defensively as they were giving up 107.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor vs. 112.1 points per 100 possessions with him off the floor, per NBA Advanced Stats.
If there’s a flip-side to his injury, it’s that the Pacers are slightly better offensively with him off the floor by 2.2 points per 100 possessions. But overall they are still disappointing on that end.
For team that was supposed to modernize its offense under new head coach Nate Bjorkgren, the Indiana has fallen short of those aspirations this season. The Pacers rank 20th in 3-point shooting frequency, make just 35.8% of their attempts from deep (22nd) and are 18th in Offensive Rating, scoring 111.4 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass.
The Pacers have also dealt with injuries all season long. TJ Warren has played just four games this season and won’t return, Jeremy Lamb is dealing with a knee injury, and Domantas Sabonis is currently dealing with a back issue. Even their back ups like Goga Bitadze and Doug McDermott are question marks on a night-to-night basis — this is far from a healthy roster.
Justin Holiday is the only Pacers player who has played every game this season. You almost have to wonder if making a playoff push is even worth it for this team? The Pacers are a franchise that typically looks to earn a playoff spot at all costs, but at what point do they decide to throw in the towel and tank for a potential lottery pick?
With the Pacers struggling defensively without Turner, nursing a ton of injuries, it’s not far fetched to see this team on the outside of the Eastern playoff picture.
Playoff Odds: Yes +128 | No -158 (FanDuel)
The Hornets have outperformed everyone’s expectations this season. They’ve hit the over on their 25.5 win total and are currently holding the No. 8 spot in the East.
The fact that oddsmakers have their odds to miss the playoffs at -158 is largely due to the injuries to their two best players, LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward — when Ball went down on March 20, the Hornets were in fourth place in the East.
Ball was having a star level impact in his rookie season with solid playmaking, scoring and defense. In 21 games as a starter, he averaged 19.5 points, 5.8 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals while shooting 46.4% from the field and 42.6% from behind the arc. Ball was cleared to resume basketball activities last week and could return by the end of April to help the Hornets push for a playoff berth.
Losing Ball to a fractured wrist was tough enough but they also lost Hayward to a sprained right foot sprain April 2. He’ll be re-evaluated in about a week, but it’s tough to imagine him getting back in time to make a playoff push. Hayward was one of the team’s best scorers and playmakers, averaging 19.6 points, 4.1 assists and 5.9 rebounds.
Add in the injury to Malik Monk, who was averaging 13.1 points on 45.1% shooting off the bench, in addition to the games that P.J. Washington, Terry Rozier and Devonte Graham missed time in April, and you see a team that is struggling to overcome the injury bug.
The Hornets are 4-6 in their last 10 games and although they’ve had a solid wins against the Portland Trail Blazers and Boston Celtics, they have lost critical games to Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls over the past two week — all teams in the playoff hunt with them.
The Hornets have been a fun team to watch this season; Ball has been the clear cut Rookie of the Year and an irreplaceable ball handler for this team. Rozier has proven to be a solid veteran point guard, Miles Bridges and Washington are dangerous running towards the basket and Hayward is still a top tier wing in this league.
Unfortunately, some things just aren’t meant to be. Six of the Hornets’ next 12 game are against teams at or above .500 and two of their four road games are against teams below .500 but seeking to stay in the playoff race (Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards). Betting the “No” on this team to make the playoffs has real value.
Playoff Odds: Yes +270 | No -355 (FanDuel)
Aside from the Knicks, the Wizards are one of hottest teams in the league. They’ve won eight out of their last 10, including an 11-point fourth quarter comeback with 6:58 to go against the Golden State Warriors.
It’s clear the Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook experiment is finally starting to resembled what the team envisioned as they now find themselves sitting in 10th place, inside the of the NBA’s play-in tournament window for the first time since the season started.
Entering Tuesday, Beal ranks first scoring at 31.4 points per game and Westbrook is averaging a triple-double for the fourth time in his career. Despite having Beal and Westbrook, the Wizards are still just 22nd in Offensive Rating, scoring 110.5 points per 100 possessions in their non garbage time minutes.
The trade deadline deal that landed the Wizards Daniel Gafford and Chandler Hutchison has been a sneaky game changer for this team. Gafford struggled to stay in the rotation in his two seasons with the Bulls, but in his short time in DC he’s made an impact on this team as he can protect the rim, run the floor and is a legitimate lob threat.
In just 17.9 minutes of action, he’s averaging 12.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. Gafford has all the makings of an elite rim protector and shot blocker and his presence has turned this defense around.
The Wizards were 26th in Defensive Rating (115.3) before the trade deadline, but since March 25, they rank fourth in Defensive Rating (108.4) and Gafford’s presence has been a big part of that.
The Wizards have 11 games left, including seven games on the road — they face the Dallas Mavericks, Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks (twice) in a 12-day span.
But if there’s a team that presents the most value for a flyer, I think it’s the Wizards. With Beal and Westbrook hitting their stride and an improving defense, they could present a challenge in a play-in game scenario.
Playoff Odds: Yes +880 | No -1800 (FanDuel)
The Toronto Raptors have been one of the most successful franchises over the past seven seasons. But this season’s team has struggled from the start.
The Raptors started the season 2-8 and when they finally put together some wins to get back into the playoff race, they were hit with injuries and absences due to COVID.
Although the Raptors are just one game out of the play-in window, they seem more interested in tanking for a higher draft pick than playing their way into the postseason. Kyle Lowry has missed 11 out of their past 16 games, Fred VanVleet has missed eight of their past 12.
If the Raptors were interested in competing for a playoff spot, they’d be the team to bet here given their championship pedigree.
I’m saying this with the understanding that the Raptors have the fourth-toughest toughest remaining strength of schedule with an upcoming game against the Brooklyn Nets as well as a West coast road trip that features consecutive games against the Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers.
With Nick Nurse at the helm, veterans like Lowry, VanVleet and Siakam, and new additions Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood, the Raptors should have an edge over the bottom tier teams in the East. However, based on their moves over the past few weeks, it’s hard not to envision them giving up on the season.
I can’t recommend playing them to make the playoffs and it’s clear the “No” is priced appropriately.
Playoff Odds: Not Listed
The Bulls have been one of the biggest disappointments since the trade deadline. Nikola Vucevic was supposed to push this team over the top, but he hasn’t been the ideal fit the Bulls were expecting
Vucevic is averaging 22.3 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists with Chicago, but his on on-court metrics are leading many to believe that he may be an empty stats guy. I’m not willing to go there yet, but with Vucevic on the court, the Bulls have an 109 Offensive Rating, a 115.2 Defensive Rating and a -6.2 Net Rating.
Overall, the Bulls have a 7-11 record with a 111.0 Offensive rating (20th), a 113.3 Defensive Rating (23rd) and a -2.3 Net Rating (23rd) since the trade deadline.
Zach LaVine has been a bright spot for this team. He’s a Most Improved Player Award candidate, leading the Bulls with 27.5 points, 5.1 assists and 5.1 rebounds while shooting 50.6% from the field and 41.6% from 3-point range.
With LaVine expected to miss an extended period of time due to health and safety protocols, the Bulls’ chances of making the playoffs are on thin ice.
There is some hope for this team however — they are one game behind the Wizards for the 10th spot in the East and they hold the tie breaker over Washington.
The Bulls have the sixth-toughest remaining strength of schedule in the league, but they face the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks in their final two games of the season, which could be ideal as those teams are likely to be resting players for the playoffs.
Their odds aren’t on the board currently, but they were +980 to make the playoffs on FanDuel as recently as this weekend. I’m not suggesting taking a flyer on the Bulls, but it wouldn’t be shock to see this team sneak their way into the play-in game.