Forecasting the NBA’s No. 1 Playoff Seed in the Eastern Conference
Odds for the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed come courtesy of BetDSI and are accurate as of Friday, March 16. Since this particular race is extremely fluid, be sure to double-check the lines before deciding on or placing a wager. Remember: We’re ranking potential winners in order of increasing likelihood they’ll be successful. Also remember: We’ve chosen this group in general based on which squads are still eligible to for their own individual bets. Any team that doesn’t get its own odds falls under “The field.”
5. Washington Wizards (+670)
The Washington Wizards trail the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed by 13 games in the win column. They also don’t yet have John Wall back from his knee debridement.
Ergo, they won’t be earning first-place honors. That they’re still laying odds at all is something of a small miracle.
4. The Field (+275)
Consider this the Indiana Pacers’ category. They’re currently sitting on top of the East’s No. 3 seed, ahead of even the Cleveland Cavaliers. That the fifth-place Wizards get their own odds and the Pacers don’t is almost unforgivable.
Victor Oladipo is most responsible for their rise, but the Pacers low-key play together like one of the league’s most cohesive units. More dangerous than anything, they’re learning how to tighten up their defense and win close games.
Feast on their crunch-time ranks this season—i.e. their performance during games in which neither team leads or trails by more than five points entering the final five minutes:
- Defensive Rating: 1st
- Points Off Turnovers Per 100 Possessions: 1st
- Fast-Break Points Per 100 Possessions: 4th
- Net Rating: 4th
So, yeah, the Pacers are going to be a viable threat to anyone they face in the playoffs. That being said, there isn’t enough time for them to make up the ground sitting between them and first place. They’re 12 games behind the No. 1 seeded Toronto Raptors at this writing.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (+550)
Similar to the Wizards, the Cavaliers find themselves 13 games behind the first-place Raptors in the win column. Their chance of erasing that galaxy-sized gap is virtually zero.
In fact, the only reason the Cavaliers are sitting here in front of the Pacers (or rather, the field) is because LeBron James remains freaking awesome. Any team with him carries a certain amount of goodwill.
But even that hasn’t mattered for these Cavaliers this season. He’s appeared in every game and improved his outside shooting, and yet they’ve been outscored by a total of six points whenever he’s on the floor. Meanwhile, in the time he’s spent on the bench, they’ve outpaced opponents by a total of 16 points. That’s…something. And it’s not good.
Nor is it good that Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson are injured. Or that Rodney Hood cannot buy a bucket. Or that the Cavaliers continue to deploy one of the NBA’s worst defenses, especially when defending pick-and-rolls.
Speaking candidly, the Cavaliers will be lucky to make it into the Eastern Conference Finals playing the way they are now. Grabbing the No. 1 seed from the Raptors is something less than a pipe dream.
2. Boston Celtics (+670)
The Boston Celtics are the only team with a semi-legitimate chance at unseating the Raptors—and even their odds feel flimsy.
Not only have the Raptors built up a five-game lead over the boys in green, but the Celtics, much like the Golden State Warriors, are laboring through a crap ton of injuries.
Marcus Smart, arguably Boston’s best defender, could be done for the year. Daniel Theis, one of the NBA’s most underrated defenders, is already out for the season after suffering a torn meniscus. Jaylen Brown is currently going through the Association’s concussion protocols after suffering a dangerous fall to the floor following a dunk in a recent win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Al Horford has been dealing with an illness, but that’s at least considered minor. Gordon Hayward still isn’t expected to play again this season as he continues to rehab his gruesome opening-night injury.
Worst of all, Kyrie Irving’s knee problems are cropping up again. Tema president Danny Ainge even recently said the point guard could eventually need surgery. That doesn’t portend anything good for the Celtics. They’re already overly reliant on his face-up creation. If he’s not right for the playoffs, they’re in trouble.
That in mind, Ainge believes he’ll ultimately be fine. But Irving has, apparently, been dealing with pain in his left knee—the same one he fractured in the NBA Finals back in 2015 and needed surgery on—for quite some time.
Resting him down the stretch of the regular season is smart. Non-negotiable, even. But unless Jayson Tatum morphs into a superstar to close the year, this Irving-less stretch will likely cost the Celtics a shot at taking down the Raptors.
1. Toronto Raptors (+150)
By now, you should have a pretty good idea of how good the Raptors’ chances at staying put remain. So let’s not mince words.
Toronto is deep. Incredibly so. The starting lineup, namely Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, receive much of the credit for getting the Raptors here—and justifiably so. But their depth is the most valuable aspect of both their Eastern Conference and NBA championship odds.
Case in point: The Raptors’ second-most used lineup on the season is an all-bench mob consisting of Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, CJ Miles, Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam. In the 272 minutes this group has played, the Raptors have outstripped opponents by 124 total points. That plus-minus would rank 10th in the league overall.
To be absolutely certain, this is insane. We’re talking about a single, solitary lineup that has logged under 300 minutes posting a better aggregate point differential than two-thirds of the entire league. How can we bet against that group?
Simply put, we can’t. So we won’t. And you shouldn’t either. On the contrary, you’ll want to jump on these odds now, before the Raptors become a much less lucrative -550 or something like that.
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