The 2018-19 NBA Season is halfway done. In fact, the teams have played more than half of their 82 regular season games heading to the annual All-Star break.
Looking at the team standings, we see familiar faces and new ones on the leaderboard. There are still plenty of games to play but the playoff picture is already shaping up. Let’s take a look at the top teams in both conferences and preview which teams are going to represent the East and West in the 2019 NBA Finals.
The Beasts of the East
The Eastern Conference became a wide open field when LeBron James chose to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers. The team which James beat in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics, were installed as the favorites to win the East this season. Boston opened at -130 primarily because they underachieved all the way to the 2018 East Finals even without their two All-Star Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward playing. But with the two back this season, the Celtics are just 37-21, tied for 4th place in the East and 6.5 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the top seed in the East.
Boston has thus fallen in the oddsboard to +333 but we know that the Eastern Conference will be decided in the playoffs and that the regular season will only determine who gets home court edge. Given their talent and playoff experience, we expect to see a different Boston team in the postseason.
The Philadelphia Sixers were the East favorites along with the Celtics before the season started. Like Boston, they have fallen from the oddsboard. Despite adding Jimmy Butler early in the season, the Sixers struggled for form and just before the trade deadline, they even added more firepower by trading for Tobias Harris. Now Philly is considered the bully in the East and among the favorites but Just like the Celtics, they have been bumped off the top and are now at third place at +325.
The Milwaukee Bucks are the biggest climbers in the East. The Bucks opened at 4th place and at +2000. Now they are the 2nd favorites to win the East at +225. Milwaukee has found tremendous success under first year head coach Mike Budenholzer who has transformed the Bucks into the second best offensive team in the league behind the Golden State Warriors. Of course, Budenholzer couldn’t have done it without Giannis Antetokounmpo who is having another phenomenal season. But Milwaukee has gotten the best out of every player on its roster and are the surprise team not just in the East. The Bucks have the best record in the NBA at the All-Star break at 43-14.
The Toronto Raptors finished last season with the best record in the East. They got swept by the Cavs in Round 2 of the playoffs and then fired Coach of the Year Dwane Casey. They added Kawhi Leonard from the Spurs and became the league’s top team early in the season. The Raptors have tapered off a bit but swung a huge deal at the trade deadline by adding Marc Gasol. Now Toronto is considered a heavyweight again and along with the Sixers as the new team to watch in the East. The Raptors enter the break at 43-16 and just one game behind the Bucks in the team standings. The addition of Marc Gasol has certainly helped push them as the favorites to win the East at +210.
Here are the latest Odds to win the NBA’s Eastern Conference this season. Odds from bet365 as of 2/18/19:
|New York Knicks||+200000|
The Best of the West
The West has always been considered as the more competitive conference and this season, that has proven to be correct once again. Unlike the East where the 8th seeded team is 16.5 games off the pace and 10 games behind the 4th seed, the Western Conference’s #8 team at the All-Star break- the Los Angeles Clippers, are just 10 games behind the leader and just three games back of the 4th seed.
As expected, the Golden State Warriors are on top of the West. The Dubs have ruled the NBA the last four seasons with their only blemish the 2016 Finals loss to Cleveland. The Warriors are the reigning back to back champions and are 41-16 at the break and two games up on the Denver Nuggets who had the lead for most of the first half of the season. No question, they are the team to beat again in the West.
Golden State has gotten even stronger with the return of DeMarcus Cousins, who gives Golden State five All-Star players in their roster. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are leading the Dubs’ scoring charge while Klay Thompson is having another “quiet” 20-point season. Golden State is the only team in both conferences at a “minus” right now at -325. That’s more expensive than the -245 when the betting lines opened.
The Houston Rockets were supposed to be the Dubs’ biggest threat this season. Houston upended the Warriors during the regular season last year and finished with the league’s best record. They were also one win away from eliminating the Warriors but an injury to Chris Paul led to back to back losses in Games 6 and 7 in the Western Conference Finals. The Rockets were off to a rough start due to injuries and the loss of Trevor Ariza. But with Harden’s current 30-point streak, the Rockets have climbed back to 5th place and 8 games off the Dubs’ pace. It’s a surprise to see Houston still at +900 and next to Golden State in the oddsboard. Of course, like the Celtics out East, you can’t take the Rockets’ experience for granted.
The Thunder are tied for third at +1300 and at this stage of the season, the are playing their best basketball in the Russ + PG era. OKC has won 11 out of their last 13 games heading to the break. George has been averaging close to 40 points per game during their current winning run while Westbrook has been making triple-double history on the side as well.
Denver barely missed making the playoff the previous two seasons but this year, they are making sure they won’t miss the bus. The Nuggets led the West for most of the first half of the season and the Warriors took lead just recently. Denver has been feeding off Nikola Jokic but is getting contributions from almost everybody in their roster including their reserves. Denver is a deep and balanced team but with all due respect to Jokic, they don’t have stars in the caliber of Curry, Durant, Harden, Paul, Westbrook and George. That could be a problem going to the playoffs. Denver though is the biggest climber in the West at +1300 after opening at +7500.
Here are the latest odds to win the NBA’s Western Conference this season. Odds were taken from bet365 as of 2/18/19:
|Golden State Warriors||-325|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||+1300|
|Los Angeles Lakers||+1600|
|San Antonio Spurs||+3300|
|Portland Trail Blazers||+4000|
|Los Angeles Clippers||+8000|
|New Orleans Pelicans||+12500|
Who Will Be The Conference Winners?
The last four seasons, the same two teams competed in the NBA Finals. But with LeBron James going Hollywood, the balance in the East has shifted. No question about the Milwaukee Bucks and how dominant they have been to start the season. The Bucks are playing like a well-oiled machine but with the rate that Giannis Antetokounmpo has been going, I’m not sure if he can keep up this pace until the playoffs. Most probably, the Bucks finish with the best record in the East but if the playoffs began today, they would meet either Boston or Philly in round 2. On the other hand, the Raptors will only draw either the Pacers or Nets, both overachievers this season. If the current standings hold until the end of the season, only one of the Celtics and Sixers make it to the second round.
The Raptors have the easier path to the conference finals and given they have added Marc Gasol, I like them in a matchup against any team in the East. I also like the Sixers, given their addition of Tobias Harris but with a tougher road to the East Finals.
I’m picking the Toronto Raptors to win the Eastern Conference title this season.
Out West, no question the Dubs are still the team to beat there. You’ve got to like what Denver is doing right now but I’m not sure if they can replicate the same success in a seven-game series. Houston is making its move and have added depth with the likes of Faried and Rivers but I’m worried that Harden runs out of bullets the rest of the way given his current usage. The Thunder look solid right now and they should provide Golden State the challenge in the West.
I have a feeling that this may be KD’s last hurrah in Golden State and he wants to leave on a high note. The Warriors looked more vulnerable last season than they do right now. With Cousins getting back to shape, it’s going to be very hard to beat Golden State four times in a seven-game series. Not only do they have supreme talent, they also have unparalleled championship experience. It’s a boring pick really but I believe the Warriors are due for one more title this season before Durant ( and Klay?) break the band next summer.
I’m picking the Golden State Warriors to win the Western Conference this season.