The NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs promises to be the most competitive it’s been in recent memory. Can the Toronto Raptors finally get over the hump and advance to the their first ever NBA Finals? Will Lebron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers be the Eastern Conference champions for the 4th consecutive season? Is there a legitimate sleeper in the NBA Eastern Conference Playoff field? I’ll be discussing those topics and much more.
All NBA Eastern Conference champion odds displayed in this article are courtesy of BetOnline.ag.
Cleveland Cavaliers (+125)
You can’t discount Cleveland’s chances of winning the Eastern Conference crown solely based on Lebron James abilty to singlehandedly dominate and take over a series. We as sports fans sometimes are guilty of taking Lebron’s greatness for granted. Nevertheless, the native of Akron, Ohio averages 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 9.1 assists per game during regular season action. Lebron has also appeared in the NBA Finals in each of the previous 7 seasons as a member of the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Despite Lebron James presence, the Cavaliers are still a flawed team in comparison to the past 3 seasons that saw them reach the NBA Finals on each occasion and capture a world championship in 2016. They’re especially vulnerable on the defensive end of the floor. Although, they’ve shown a slight improvement in that area since overhauling their roster at the trade deadline. The Cavs have also gone a very mediocre 21-20 on the road this season.
Toronto Raptors (+155)
I truly believe this will be the Raptors year to take the next step and advance to the NBA Finals. Toronto is coming off a banner regular season that’s seen them go 59-23 (.720) and that includes an excellent 34-7 (.829) on its home floor. The postseason performances of star players Kyle Lowry (16.2 PPG/6.9 APG) and DeMar DeRozan (23.0 PPG) will go a long way in determining how far Toronto will go. Both players have fell short of expectations in past Raptors playoff appearances. Each player will have plenty of incentive to atone for those previous postseason disappointments in this go around.
Philadelphia 76ers (+500)
What’s the NBA world coming to? To the surprise of many, the Philadelphia 76ers have played their way into being one of the top 3 favorites to win an Eastern Conference crown. As a matter of fact, the 76ers are the hottest team and basketball right now, and they enter the playoffs on a sizzling hot 16-game winning streak. Even more impressive is they won their last 8 contests without the services Joel Emblid (22.9 PPG/11.0 RPG) who’s been sidelined with a broken orbital bone. In the absence of Emblid, 21-year-old Ben Simmons (15.1 PPG/8.1 RPG/8.2 APG) has emerged as a rising star. Philadelphia has also gone a terrific 21-1 over their last 22 home games and covered in 17 of those contests. In a relatively wide open Eastern Conference playoff field, why not the Philadelphia 76ers?
Boston Celtics (+2000)
This would be a whole different discussion if not for a season ending injury to star point guard Kyrie Irving (24.4 PPG/5.1 APG). Additionally, if Irving were available the NBA Eastern Conference Championship odds on Boston would be nowhere near this high. Nevertheless, young players like Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, and Jayson Tatum have all elevated their level of play which bodes well for the Celtics future. Boston is more than capable of holding their own against anyone in the East, but the loss of Irving will eventually catch up to them if their fortunate enough to get beyond its 1st round series against Milwaukee.
Milwaukee Bucks (+2200)
The Bucks have been much to erratic for my liking. Milwaukee finished their regular season slate by going an uninspiring 12-14 over their last 26 games. I’m particularly not enthralled by their play on the defensive end of the floor. Unless star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (26.9 PPG/10.0 RPG) plays at an insane level, I don’t see the Bucks being around very long.
Indiana Pacers (+2200)
Going into this season few experts believed that Indiana was going to be a playoff team, especially with Paul George no longer part of the equation. Nonetheless, the Pacers put together an unanticipated stellar regular season that saw them go 48-34.
The good news is the Pacers 1st round opponent is Cleveland, and they went 3-1 this season against them. The bad news, all 4 of those games occurred before the trade deadline. Since that time, Cavaliers management has reshaped their roster with multiple trades, and they’ve become a much better team since doing so. The overachieving Pacers won’t be one of my NBA picks to win reach the NBA Finals.
Washington Wizards (+3000)
You can easily make a case for Washington being the most underperforming NBA team during this 2017-2018 regular season campaign. They were considered one of the frontrunners to challenge the Cavilers for Eastern Conference supremacy prior to the season’s start, but they’ve been a far cry from fitting that description. Washington enters the postseason having gone a dismal 5-11 during its previous 16 games. There’s no doubt the Wizards still possess the talent to be a tough out for any Eastern Conference opponent, but I expect top seeded Toronto to put them out of their misery in short order.
Miami Heat (+3500)
I love the way this undermanned Miami team has competed this season. They’re extremely disciplined, play stout defense, and are a true definition of the word team. Unfortunately for them, they’ll have the unappealing task of facing a red-hot Philadelphia team in their opening round series. Nevertheless, they went 2-2 against the 76ers this season, and all 4 of those contests were decided by 6 points or less. I look for Miami to give Philadelphia fits, but their shortage of overall talent will cause them to fall just short.
Ross Benjamin is a top sports analyst and one of the sports industry's most respected handicappers. Follow him on Twitter: @RossBenjamin1 or visit his website at RBWins.com