The NBA season resumes on July 31 with 22 teams set to play eight games to determine seedings and playoff berths in each conference. All games will be played at Disney World in Orlando without fans, and players and personnel will be tested daily for COVID-19.
While the playoff picture is far clearer in the Eastern Conference than in the competitive Western Conference, there is still plenty of betting action to consider taking on teams that are currently in playoff position in the East.
The Toronto Raptors (46-18) are currently three games ahead of the Boston Celtics (43-21) for the No. 2 seed in the East, yet the Celtics are being given equal or better futures odds than the Raptors at both DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook.
Why do oddsmakers consider the Celtics a better championship contender than the defending champion Raptors? Will the Celtics play better at a neutral site? Does Boston have a legitimate chance to take down top-seeded Milwaukee in a potential ECF finals showdown?
We take a look at the prospects of both ECF contenders in this special edition on NBA futures.
Celtics Futures Odds
To Win Eastern Conference (+700 at DraftKings Sportsbook, +700 at FD)
The Celtics and Raptors are essentially tied for the second-best odds to win the East at most sportsbooks, though they’re still massive underdogs behind the Bucks (-165 DK, -175 FD). When the season resumes, Boston lines up to face Philadelphia in the first round, but we’d expect the Sixers to move up and the Pacers to wind up in the No. 6 spot. The Celtics easily dispatched the Pacers in four games last playoffs and have won four of their last five regular season games against Indiana.
Assuming the Raptors win their first round series, the Celtics would face Toronto on a neutral floor in the ECF semifinals. Boston has an edge in terms of offensive efficiency and overall star power, which is usually a driving force for sportsbooks. Jayson Tatum was becoming a superstar prior to the season suspension and Kemba Walker (knee) could be healthy enough to resume his superstar form after a three-month layoff. Both Boston and Toronto battled injuries all year, but the Celtics were stronger when they had their full complement and went 14-13 against teams with winning records while Toronto went 11-14 against winning teams. The Celtics went 27-10 against ECF teams.
Boston beat Toronto twice in three tries this season, yet was handled rather convincingly by Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. Of course Milwaukee bounced Boston, 4-1, in the ECF semifinals last year after Boston stole Game 1. This year’s Celtics squad is miles ahead in terms of chemistry and both Tatum and Jaylen Brown have become elite wing defenders. Perhaps they could tag team Giannis defensively and keep a potential ECF series close enough to go six or seven games. It’s worth noting that nine of Milwaukee’s 12 losses have come on the road this year, so the Bucks might be a bit more vulnerable at a neutral site.
To Win NBA Championship (+2000 at DraftKings Sportsbook, +2000 at FD)
Maybe the Celtics could get past the Bucks to make their first Finals appearance since 2008, but would they have enough to defeat a challenger that will likely be the Lakers or Clippers? Boston played both LA teams very well this season. The C’s dropped a close one to the Clippers before Tatum took over in a double overtime win before the ASB, and they embarrassed LeBron and company on Jan. 20 before losing a close rematch the following month.
The C’s were a disappointing 16-11 overall against the WCF, but frequently stepped up against the NBA’s elite. They often play a versatile “five-out” style of offense that is tough to defend and they are tied with Milwaukee for the best offensive rating (112.3) in the East. Boston was also fourth in defensive rating and second in PPG allowed (106.8) but has still been inconsistent this season. If the C’s come out of the long suspension healthy and in great basketball shape, they could become more formidable than the injury-diminished squad we saw during the first five months of the NBA calendar.
Raptors Futures Odds
To Win Eastern Conference (+700 at DraftKings Sportsbook, +800 at FD)
The Raptors aren’t getting much respect from oddsmakers since they no longer have playoff dynamo Kawhi Leonard. Yet they still have a fantastic corps of cohesive defenders, a savvy coach in Nick Nurse, and a budding superstar in Pascal Siakam. The Nets or Magic are unlikely to give the Raptors much trouble in the first round and Toronto is fully capable of containing Boston’s length to stop the Celtics’ potential run in its tracks.
Could Toronto shut down Giannis and the Bucks again without Kawhi? That seems less likely than the Celtics rising to the challenge, which is why the second-seeded Raptors are getting slightly overlooked by oddsmakers. Toronto battled Milwaukee valiantly in two regular season meetings, but succumbed down the stretch in a pair of 10-point and 11-point losses. If they could hang around in some closer games, however, the Raptors could definitely close. Toronto owns the second-best net rating (17.9) in clutch situations (final 5 minutes of games within 5 points) this year and the best offensive rating (146.8) in 21 clutch minutes since the ASB. Their defense, which allows the fewest PPG (105.6) this season, has also become solidified with Marc Gasol back and healthy.
To Win NBA Championship (+2200 at DraftKings Sportsbook, +2400 at FD)
The Raptors have been a great story this year, but backing them to win another NBA title seems foolhardy. Defensive efficiency and in-series adjustments will only get you so far in the NBA before a superstar has to close. Kyle Lowry and Siakam are proven playoff players, but are they capable of taking over down the stretch with the opposing team focused primarily on them? Likely not, which is why Toronto has struggled (11-14) against teams with winning records this season.
The Raptors are 16-8 against WCF teams but are just 8-10 when listed as underdogs. They may have peaked earlier in the season and unlike the Celtics, aren’t necessarily missing an element that could allow them to hit “another gear” in the playoffs. That’s why oddsmakers are favoring Boston, a team with more potential in the new playoff format.