After the opening weekend of the NBA playoffs, the Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns were the betting favorites to win the Eastern and Western Conferences, respectively.
A week later, they’ve solidified those positions and widened the gaps separating them from the rest of the pack — but not via the same paths.
The Suns have taken matters into their own hands, turning a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead against the Kawhi Leonard-less L.A. Clippers. The Celtics have inched toward minus-money status in the East not due to their own predictable success (though they hold an un-blowable 3-1 lead over the middling Atlanta Hawks) but because the conference’s two MVP candidates, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid, are both struggling with injuries that could doom their teams.
Stated simply: Neither the Milwaukee Bucks nor the Philadelphia 76ers are a threat to win the Eastern Conference with their respective superstars in street clothes, or even in uniform in a substantially diminished state. And if those two teams aren’t a threat, then — with all due respect to the Miami Heat (who lead Milwaukee 2-1) and the New York Knicks (who are up 3-1 on the Cleveland Cavaliers) — there are no threats to Boston in the East.
As of Monday morning, the Suns were between +145 (FanDuel and the Kambi-powered sportsbooks such as Barstool and BetRivers) and +155 (DraftKings) to win the West, well ahead of the Denver Nuggets, who were priced from +300 (PointsBet) to +320 (FD and DK).
In the East, the C’s were between +110 (PointsBet) and +140 (Kambi), ahead of the Bucks, who ranged from +190 to +200.
There’s still a lot of basketball to be played, and one untimely injury can flip everything, but some sportsbooks are already pricing a Celtics-Suns conference winner parlay as short as +400.
Looking ahead to Round 2
At DraftKings, the Celtics and Suns are each -20000 to advance to the second round, while the Hawks and Clippers are each +3000 to win three straight. Those series are almost as much of a foregone conclusion at the sportsbooks as the Sixers vs. the Brooklyn Nets, which ended Saturday in a sweep while Embiid rested his sprained right knee.
Denver is almost in the same category, holding a 3-1 lead over the Timberwolves after dropping Game 4 in Minnesota on Sunday night. DraftKings has the Nuggets at -6000 and the Wolves at +2000.
DraftKings already has a line posted on the likely Denver-Phoenix second-round series, with the top-seeded Nuggets a +115 underdog and the Suns, the No. 4 seed in the West, at -145. Denver had eight more wins than Phoenix during the regular season, but the Suns are a different team with Kevin Durant, whom they acquired from Brooklyn on Feb. 9. Including playoffs, Phoenix is now 11-1 when KD suits up.
The Suns-Nuggets series odds could shift a bit, of course, if either team requires more games than the other to advance to the second round.
No odds are posted yet for the all-but-clinched Celtics-Sixers second-round series, and that assuredly has very little to do with concerns about Boston finishing off Atlanta. Rather, the absence of an opening line is all about questions surrounding the severity of Embiid’s injury, suffered during Game 3 against the Nets.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers said Saturday that Embiid is “50 percent at best” to be ready for the start of the next series. That may be some sort of gamesmanship. And how diminished the presumptive MVP of the league would be for Game 1 in Boston likely varies based on how soon the Celtics finish off the Hawks and, in turn, how soon that Game 1 takes place.
Even with a healthy Embiid on the court, the Celtics, who won this year’s season series against Philly 3-1 and have gone 8-1 across two playoff series against the Sixers in the past six seasons, would assuredly be a clear favorite to advance to the Eastern Conference finals. The US Bets projection: something in the range of Boston -180/Philadelphia +140 if the outlook for Embiid is positive before Game 1, and widening from there if Rivers’ pessimism proves well placed.
Milwaukee odds buck trend
The other four first-round series include two that are truly up in the air and two that have a clear favorite but are far from over.
The Knicks are -550 at BetMGM, PointsBet, and DraftKings to win one more game over the Cavs. The L.A. Lakers range from -350 to -400 holding a 2-1 lead over the Memphis Grizzlies heading into Monday night’s action.
The Bucks are the lone trailing team to be seen as a favorite. The Eastern Conference’s top seed, down 2-1 and with Giannis having missed the last two games with a lower-back contusion but reportedly set to return for Game 4, range from -225 (BetMGM) to -255 (FanDuel) to win three of the next four, while Miami is priced as high as +210 at FanDuel to win two more games.
Then there’s the series that has flipped back and forth and been by far the opening round’s most entertaining matchup. The defending champ Golden State Warriors came into their series with the Sacramento Kings favored to advance and remained so after dropping Game 1. The Kings became the favorites when they secured a 2-0 lead, but the Warriors reclaimed favorite status by evening the series in San Francisco. Heading into Game 5 in Sacramento, the best price on the Warriors is -180, while the top payout on the Kings is +165.
And one last odd(s) note as these playoffs roll on: The Lakers are just +1100 to win the championship at DraftKings … and all the way up at +2000 at FanDuel.
There are some things a bettor can’t control, like a star player suffering an injury or a game-winning shot rimming out. But securing the best price on a wager is one thing no sports gambler should leave to chance.
Photo: Barry Gossage/Getty Images