LeBron James has reigned supreme in the Eastern Conference the last eight years, or when Jayson Tatum was 13 years old. But all that’s changing after King James opted to move to Hollywood and join the Lakers.
That creates plenty of intrigue in a wide open Eastern Conference, while the gauntlet of the West becomes even more difficult for the record-breaking Warriors. With that in mind, here are our favorites to make the 2019 finals in either conference based on the value of their odds from some of the top sportsbooks online.
At the start of last year’s postseason the Sixers felt like the favorite in the East. They had won 16 straight games to close the regular season, the Kyrie-less Celtics were banged up and the Cavaliers looked shaky at best. Philadelphia cruised past the Heat in five games but were just as easily beaten by Boston. That might not be the case this time around should they meet in the playoffs again.
While Boston should be healthier, the Sixers will be a year older and now have a playoff experience under their collective belts. There are few, if any, answers in the East for Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, especially in a seven-game series. At some point this Sixers team is going to make the “jump,” and it could very well happen this season. They may not be as good as the Celtics on paper, but they’re close, and given their much better their much better odds of 3/1 listed at 888sport we like them most in the East.
The Celtics could theoretically have four All-Stars this season (Horford, Irving, Hayward, Tatum). Considering the team that’s knocked them out of the postseason three of the last four years no longer employs LeBron James, Boston has a solid chance of cruising in the East. Hayward’s and Irving’s injuries may look like blessings in disguise this year, as key rotation players (Tatum, Brown, Rozier, Smart) saw expanded roles and now have the starting experience to play in reserve minutes.
It won’t be easy for Brad Stevens to find minutes for everyone, and he’ll have to figure out the right combinations, but it’s a good problem to have given that talent. Given that they’ll likely have the top seed, and thus home court advantage throughout, they’re a smart bet at 1/1 on 888Sport considering Boston was 10-1 at home last postseason.
Looking for a dark horse? Well, we like Victor Oladipo as a potential dark horse MVP candidate, so of course the Pacers odds in the East look juicy. Last year they were one of six teams to rank in the top-12 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The other five on that list (PHI, GS, OKC, HOU, TOR, OKC) won an average of 56 games last year.
So consider us excited about Indiana’s prospects after a successful offseason, a healthy Myles Turner and a motivated Oladipo. They won 48 games a year ago and will be better on paper this season. They’re not better than Boston or Philadelphia, but there’s a case for them being the third best team in the East. Getting them at the sixth best odds of 25/1 at 888sport is a steal.
You know the story. A current dynasty added a fifth All-Star during the offseason. And since we’re discussing who will come out of the West playoffs, it’s even more relevant. DeMarcus Cousins will miss a good portion of the regular season recovering from surgery on his Achilles. All that means is he should be healthy and rested once the postseason comes around.
And the Warriors showed last season they don’t even need home court advantage to come out of the West, beating the Rockets in a Game 7. The Warriors looked vulnerable last year and still made a fourth straight Finals. It’d be a shock if they didn’t make it five. They’re a boring yet safe bet at 1/3 on 888Sport.com.
We’ll never know for sure, but if Chris Paul doesn’t injure his hamstring at the end of Game 5 of last year’s West Finals, the Rockets had a seriously good shot at knocking off the Warriors. Houston is different this season – swapping Trevor Ariza with Carmelo Anthony and losing Luc Richard Mbah a Moute – but a team with the reigning MVP in James Harden and Paul will have a shot.
Perhaps Anthony will find this Houston system more to his liking than the OKC debacle and he will provide a third scorer to help the Rockets over the hump. Houston’s 5/1 odds on 888Sport are wildly high for such a talented team that just won 65 games. Such is life in the Warriors’ conference, but it’ll likely be these two fighting it out in late May. One seven-game series and 5/1 odds? That’s great value.
Brett Favre was in the NFL the last time LeBron James wasn’t playing in the NBA Finals. So are we really going to bet against the game’s best player getting back there for a ninth straight season? Admittedly his road will be much, much tougher in the West. But again, when the postseason arrives James is a different animal. He just came off a season in which he averaged 34.0 points, 9.1 rebounds and 9.0 assists over a 22-game stretch. He isn’t human.
And the pieces they added in Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo all have serious playoff experience. Combine that experience with the talent of the young kids in Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball and you have a potential recipe for postseason success. Getting 6/1 odds on LeBron James's squad (at 888Sport) is always a good play.