NBA Playoffs Picture Heading Into May

The NBA season has certainly been a roller coaster ride. Some new teams have emerged as contenders, as well as perennial powerhouses. Furthermore, injury uncertainty becomes a major factor with teams’ championship hopes. Will overall talent prevail, or will it be the team that avoids devastating injuries? Let’s take a look at the NBA playoffs picture heading into May. In doing so, I will analyze the current landscape and betting odds for each team in the hunt.

The Eastern Conference

Current NBA Playoffs Picture And NBA Championship Betting Odds*

  1. Brooklyn Nets 40-20 (+240)
  2. Philadelphia 76ers 39-20 (+1,200)
  3. Milwaukee Bucks 36-22 (+750)
  4. New York Knicks 33-27 (+10,000)
  5. Atlanta Hawks 33-27 (+10,000)
  6. Boston Celtics 32-28 (+5,000)
  7. Miami Heat 31-29 (+3,800)
  8. Charlotte Hornets 28-30 (+50,000)
  9. Indiana Pacers 27-31 (+15,000)
  10. Washington Wizards 26-33 (+50,000)
  11. Toronto Raptors 25-34 (+15,000)
  12. Chicago Bulls 25-34 (+25,000)

**Betting odds from Sports Betting Dime as of 4/22/2021

The Title Contenders

There is little doubt that the top three teams in the East stand above the rest in the conference. Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Milwaukee all have core groups of veteran players. Conversely, each team has potential hurdles going into the latter part of the season.

The Brooklyn Nets (+240)

Will the lack of playing together impact the Nets big three?

Brooklyn has assembled a super squad. The team has three of the best basketball players in the world. Furthermore, they sit atop the entire NBA, according to the oddsmakers. At only +240, Brooklyn is a heavy favorite to go all the way this season. Even with being hit with injuries. The team sits only one game out of first. Regardless of the formidable talent, some aspects of this team raise some concerns.

When the Nets traded for James Harden, they sacrificed a lot of depth. This dilemma would not last long as the organization picked up Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge. Blake is just a shell of his former all-star form. He does give them a player that can play pick and roll and pick and pop offense. Unfortunately, Aldridge had to retire recently due to a heart condition. Moreover, injuries have constantly plagued the roster, resulting in the “Big Three” only appearing in seven games together. This leaves many to question if they can put it all together during the playoffs.

It was also just announced that James Harden had a setback in rehab with no timetable for return. On top of that, the team has a first-year coach in Steve Nash, and Kevin Durant is injured again. Lastly, there are few teams worse at overall defense than the Nets. A stat that usually does not correlate to success during the playoffs.

The Milwaukee Bucks (+750)

Can Giannis finally shake the playoff demons and get to the finals?

In early November of last year, I discussed Giannis’ contract situation and the potential league impact. Since then, the former MVP and all-world forward decided to re-up for another five years. Along with that, the team signed guard Jrue Holiday and recently picked up veteran P.J. Tucker. Mainstays Khris Middleton and Brooks Lopez present a solid lineup. Also, Vegas seems to like them more than the Sixers who sit atop of the East.

So what’s not to like about this team? Well, questions still loom about Giannis and his playoff struggles. Last season against the Heat, he averaged eight points less than his season average. Usually, the lane gets tighter in the playoffs and the refs let a more physical style go. Does Milwaukee have the supporting cast to help Giannis if he hits any roadblocks? Do they have the overall talent to hang with the other contenders in the East? Right now, it seems like the Bucks have more questions than answers.

The Philadelphia 76ers (+1,200)

Can the Sixers finally live up to expectations?

Looking at this team, they have few weaknesses. Philadelphia’s success falls mainly on the shoulders of MVP candidate Joel Embiid. While he has missed time with injuries, the big man has dominated when healthy. In the 39 games he has played, Joel has averaged 29.9 points and 11.2 boards. The other two major contributors are Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons. They also have a deep squad with Shake Milton, Seth Curry, Danny Green, and Dwight Howard. Couple that with the all-time great head coach, Doc Rivers, and it seems like a recipe for success.

Some factors provide some reservations. First, Vegas doesn’t seem to believe in them. Sitting at +1,200, they have the highest odds to win the chip out of the top Eastern teams. Part of why the Sixers have such high odds is due to their playoff ineptitude. Quite frankly, the team has underachieved since ‘The Process’ began. There is also the injury history of Simmons and Embiid that presents a concern. Lastly, the championship-favorite Nets should scare every NBA team.

The Middle Of The Pack

Can superstar in the making Trae Young surprise the contenders and make a run?

All three teams I mentioned prior are a lock to make the playoffs. And looking further into the Eastern Conference, teams sitting at fourth through seventh would need a disaster finish to miss the tournament. Moreover, many have younger players with critical roles having little to no playoff experience. The Knicks and Hawks are great stories and exciting to watch. Unfortunately for them, I do not see any making a deep run this postseason. Vegas seems to agree with me as the odds for both winning the championship are +10,000 or more.

Can Jimmy Butler lead the Heat to another magical playoffs?

The other two teams are intriguing. Both the Celtics and Heat have veteran leadership that could catapult them into contention. One could lump the Celtics in with the Sixers and being underachievers. They have immense talent but have not been able to put it together when it counts. Conversely, the Heat overachieved last in last year’s playoff run. It seems like Miami hasn’t lived up to expectations, being that they played in the championship last season. Currently, the oddsmakers like the seventh place Heat (+3,800) more than Boston (+5,000). A somewhat surprising revelation, but the Celtics do have injury concerns that are mounting.

Boston’s injuries have contributed to their inconsistency.

The Play-In Candidates

With the expanded playoff format, ten teams now make the tournament. Playmaker contributor Kyle McKee went into detail describing how the revamped system works. This further complicates the NBA playoffs picture landscape. I understand that Miami is technically in this equation, but I feel they could jump a few spots. Looking at the standings and odds, it seems like Vegas likes the Pacers and Raptors over the Hornets, Bulls, and Wizards. With five teams jockeying for the last three spots, it’s really a toss-up.

The Hornets and Pacers have a better standing than the bottom three playoff contenders. Although, Indiana’s home record provides reason to panic. The team is just 9-17 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. One of the worst home records of anyone currently in the NBA playoffs picture. Making matters worse, they have played five more away games than home ones. The Hornets are a team I feel will make it in. They were able to withstand the loss of Rookie of the Year candidate LaMelo Ball and still hover around the .500 mark for the season. Then enter the Wizards, who have two immensely talented players that could carry them into the tournament. They are on a six-game win streak, and who wouldn’t want to see Russ and Beal try to will this team to the play-in game?

Rounding out the bottom are the Raptors, a team that has fallen far from the title run two seasons ago. And the Bulls have remained competitive without their star player Zach Lavine who is going through Covid protocols and will rejoin them soon. It is difficult to predict how the East will shake out, but it will provide a great amount of drama.

The Western Conference

Current NBA Playoffs Picture And NBA Championship Betting Odds*

  1. Utah Jazz 44-15 (+700)
  2. Phoenix Suns 42-17 (+2,000)
  3. Los Angeles Clippers 43-19 (+650)
  4. Denver Nuggets 38-21 (+3,500)
  5. Los Angeles Lakers 35-24 (+350)
  6. Dallas Mavericks 32-26 (+6,000)
  7. Portland Trailblazers 32-27 (+4,000)
  8. Memphis Grizzlies 30-28 (+15,000)
  9. Golden State Warriors 30-30 (+25,000)
  10. San Antonio Spurs 29-29 (+25,000)
  11. New Orleans Pelicans 26-33 (+25,000)

*Betting odds from Sports Betting Dime as of 4/22/2021

The Title Contenders

Much like the East, there are three teams that oddsmakers favor over the rest of the pack. Unlike the East, the three do not currently sit that way in the standings. Also, in the West, spots one through ten are pretty much clinched.

The Los Angeles Lakers (+350)

AD is set to return to action, will LeBron be far behind?

While Vegas may lean towards the Nets (+240) to win it all, the returning champions are a close second. Quite frankly, if the Lakers have a healthy LeBron and Anthony Davis, they can overcome any obstacle in their path. They also will need the return of Kyle Kuzma to add to their bench depth and offensive spark. Even though the team is currently in fifth place, King James had proven seeding really doesn’t matter. And history has shown us that LeBron equals NBA finals. When healthy, the only weakness the defending champs have is three-point shooting.

The Los Angeles Clippers (+650)

Can Paul George make up for last year’s playoffs disaster?

The Clippers have just as much talent and playoff veterans as any other team in the league. Moreover, they have the wildcard, “Playoff Rondo”; who by all accounts has provided vocal leadership that the team needed while solidifying the point guard position. Much like the Lakers, when healthy, the Clippers have very few weaknesses. The questions mainly arise when we go back to last year’s playoffs. Even with Paul George struggling, the team was up 3-1 against the Nuggets in the conference semifinals and had an epic meltdown. The bubble collapse may still loom in players’ minds and affect them this postseason. Although, if head coach Ty Lue can press the right buttons, it is certainly possible this squad brings home the trophy.

The Utah Jazz (+700)

Are the Jazz really contenders in the West?

Questions loom about the Jazz, even though they sit atop the Western Conference. What can’t be doubted is the team’s home-court advantage. Utah is currently 26-3 at home, and if they earn home court, it could bode well. They also have some playoffs experience and veterans on the roster. Furthermore, Donavan Mitchell has proven to be clutch in the face of pressure. While he is another star injured, there haven’t been reports that cause one to panic. I like the make-up of this team, as they have a deep squad that can beat you in many ways. The problem is, they pretty much have the same team that has yet to reach the pinnacle in years past. Can they learn from history and stay consistent in the playoffs? Only time will tell.

The Middle Of The Pack

Should the Suns consider resting CP3 more to make sure he’s healthy for the playoffs?

Even though the Suns have the second-best record in the West, the oddsmakers still view them as the middle of the pack. Sitting at +2,000, they provide decent odds for anyone willing to take that action. Also, I think Phoenix should seriously consider load management with Chris Paul. He is the glue of this team and an outright leader. And history has shown us that he tends to get injured in the playoffs. I usually disagree with the notion of sitting a player, but I’d make a case for CP3. I like the youth on this team, and their depth is formidable. The one main concern is we’ve never seen sharpshooter Devin Booker when the lights are at their brightest.

Can Jokic carry the Nuggets?

Rounding out the rest of the teams that could make a 2020 Miami Heat-type run are the Nuggets, Trail Blazers, and Mavs. I would drop Denver down a peg with the loss of All-Star Jamal Murray. The Nuggets have relied on MVP candidate Nikola Jokic. The big man has been otherworldly, almost averaging a triple-double per game. He has carried the team on his shoulders and must continue to do so if they can compete for a title. They traded for Aaron Gordon, and Michael Porter Jr. continues building upon his breakout season last year. Furthermore, the oddsmakers still give them the advantage over the others. Ultimately, I don’t think they can compete with the likes of the top three teams without Murray.

Is this the year the Blazers breakthrough?

We pretty much know what we will get from Damian Lillard. The superstar has proven time and time again no moment is too big for Dame. It’s the supporting cast that has to match the intensity of their leader. C.J. McCollum is one of the most underrated players in the NBA. The guard can collect buckets in multiple ways, but his health has always been problematic. There’s also Carmelo Anthony, and Gary Trent Jr. provide firepower. The question I continue to ask, “Is this the same old Trail Blazers?”. I would like to see this team go far. Unfortunately, history has shown us otherwise.

Luka has an uphill battle carrying the Mavs roster.

While Vegas seems to favor Dallas (+4,000) over Portland (+6,000), I would disagree. Dallas doesn’t seem as scary as others in this category. Yes, Luka Doncic is one of the top players in the game. Conversely, he doesn’t seem to have the second and third options to compete with the deeper teams. I struggle to find a reason other than injuries to other teams in which Dallas can win it all. Making matters worse, they did very little to bolster the roster with trades. Maybe they can surprise people, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

The Play-In Candidates

Rounding out the bottom are the Grizzlies, Warriors, and Spurs seem like locks to make it in. I look at New Orleans’ roster, and it baffles me as to how they have underachieved. I continually fail to understand how a team consisting of Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram can’t figure it out. Enough about them, and let’s look at the others that are currently in the mix.

Stephen Curry is having a season to remember.

By far, the most fun team to watch are the Warriors. I agree with the oddsmakers and doubt their chances to make many waves. I still can’t wait to see Stephen Curry rain threes and drop floaters over whoever they play. The Grizzlies have been quietly consistent. The small-market team is solid but has no superstars. As we’ve seen in the majority of past champions, star power is a must to content. That goes for the Spurs also. Legendary coach Greg Popovich has worked miracles getting this roster in the playoffs potentially. The fact is, they may not make it out of the play-in round.

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