There's Value in Betting the Boston Celtics to Win the East
The NBA season resumes on July 30, and the chase for a championship continues.
So far this season, the Eastern Conference has been run by the 53-12 Milwaukee Bucks, who are -175 favorites to represent the conference in the Finals, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. The Boston Celtics are second at +700, and the reigning champs -- the Toronto Raptors -- are third with +800 odds.
Not unlike the Western Conference, this looks like a two-squad race with a third team sticking their neck out as a longshot. Whereas the Houston Rockets are the longshots in the West, the Raptors are that team in the East.
Before the hiatus, Boston, Milwaukee, and Toronto were the only three teams in the East to record at least 20 road wins, and that could be the difference in a tournament where no team will have home-court advantage.
Let's take a look at why Boston is Milwaukee's biggest threat to represent the East in the NBA Finals this year.
The Bucks' Dominance
Prior to play suspending, the Bucks were on a season-long three-game losing streak, with Giannis Antetokounmpo missing consecutive games with a knee injury. In essence, the break couldn't have come at a better time for Milwaukee.
The Deer are locked into the 1 seed as the only team in the league to reach 50 wins so far. The Bucks are an Eastern Conference-best 25-9 away from home this season and trail only the Los Angeles Lakers (26-6) for the league's best road record.
Milwaukee's offense has been magnificent, averaging a league-high 118.6 points per game, but the defense has been even more impressive.
The Bucks' 101.6 defensive rating ranks best in the league by 3.3 points. Their defense is first in opponent field goal percentage and rebounding, third in allowed field goals made and blocks per game, and they have limited their opponents to the fewest paint points per contest.
Both the Celtics and Raptors could present unique challenges to the Bucks in a seven-game series. That being said, what could be Milwaukee's kryptonite?
What's Milwaukee's Weakness?
The Bucks struggle versus the three-pointer and that has been one of their only downfalls all season long.
Milwaukee allows opponents to hit the most three-point attempts per game (13.7) while also attempting the most (38.6). The Bucks have surrendered the league's highest three-point percentage, as well as three-pointers made and attempted in defeats. In fact, they've allowed at least 15 made threes in 10 of their 12 losses this season.
The Bucks also had a tendency to go cold from downtown in their losses. Their overall three-point percentage was 5% worse than their opponents' in those 12 games.
If the Celtics or Raptors were to make it to the Conference Finals, the three-pointer would be the way to defeat the heavily favored Bucks. The Celtics hold opponents to 34.2% from three (third), while the Raptors lead the league at 33.7%. Both Toronto (37.1%) and Boston (36.3%) also hit the three at a better clip than Milwaukee (35.6%).
Why Not the Raptors?
Currently the 3 seed at 43-21, Toronto trails Boston (46-18) by 3.0 games, which seemingly makes the two squads destined for a second-round matchup.
Getting past the Raptors will be the Celtics' first hurdle. Boston is 2-1 versus Toronto this season.
The Raptors had that incredible run last season with Kawhi Leonard, and they've continued that success this season, climbing into the 2 seed on the back of a 15-game winning streak between January 15 and February 10. Toronto's been streaky all season, and going cold could spell the end for them against Boston's star power.
The Celtics were the only team in the NBA to have three players average 20 or more points per game, and Gordon Hayward (17.3) wasn't far off from making it a fourth. With Leonard on the Los Angeles Clippers, the star power is certainly in Boston's favor.
Why Are the Celtics a Good Bet?
Without Leonard, it seems unlikely that the Raptors can overcome the Bucks as they did in 2018-19, giving me more confidence in the Celtics as the best bet to overthrow the Bucks in the East. If you're going to bet against the favorite, the Celtics at 7/1 are the best option in a seven-game series.
Boston went 1-1 versus Milwaukee this season, losing by 5 points on the road and winning by 11 at home.
The Celtics are the only Eastern Conference team to rank top-five in both offensive and defensive rating.
More importantly, Boston has four players shooting at 36% or higher from downtown on a combined 25.7 attempts between them -- that doesn't even include Marcus Smart, who is shooting 34.8% on a career-high 6.9 attempts from behind the arc. That could prove vital in their quest to take down the Bucks.
Bets to Make
Aside from betting Boston to win the East straight up, there are some other opportunities for value.
The Bucks are featured in five of the six top matchups (in terms of odds) for the NBA Finals, while Celtics-Lakers comes in at 19/1. The Celtics facing the Clippers is also listed at an intriguing 23/1.
I wrote about my three favorite exact NBA Finals matchups, and the Celtics-Lakers cracked my list at 23/1. That price has since shrunk to 19/1. Get in on that value while you still can.
If you're not convinced Milwaukee will make its first NBA Finals appearance since 1973-74 and want to place a more straightforward bet, the Celtics are the right choice at 7/1
Boston has the star power, offensive firepower, and defensive straps to go seven games with Milwaukee, and they'll be out for revenge after their 4-1 Conference Semifinals loss last season.