This article is part of our Handicapping the NBA series.
We're only a handful of weeks until the end of the NBA regular season and yet there's still so much ambiguity in the standings. Insane recent runs by the Knicks and Wizards have complicated the Eastern Conference standings, while the Clippers despite an injury to Kawhi Leonard (foot) have made things competitive at the top of the West.
That's good because the award race has been more or less solidified. You can debate the merits for different Rookie of the Year candidates, but with the imminent return of LaMelo Ball (wrist) there's just not a lot value out there.
Nets Will Not Win East
76ers to win Eastern Conference (+500 on PointsBet)
Bucks to win Eastern Conference (+350 on DraftKings)
Ok, so I'm cheating a bit. There's no specific "this team will not make the NBA Championship" bets available, so I'm just grabbing the best odds for the two teams who figure to present the biggest challenge to the presumed favorites (sorry Knicks fans).
Obviously James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving combine to easily make the most talented trio in the East, and arguably across the entire NBA, but various injuries to members of the fearsome trio mean the aforementioned group has played just seven games together this entire season.
I know all three are All-Stars, but chemistry matters, especially in the playoffs and it seems incredibly improbable the Nets will somehow be able to meld that together given the extenuating circumstances. Mix in an inexperienced coach and I think you have the makings for one of these two teams to pull off the proverbial upset.
Warriors to make playoffs (-110 on FanDuel)
With the run Stephen Curry has been on as of late, I really see no way the Warriors miss the playoffs and I'm truthfully surprised these odds are even that close.
Golden State currently sits a game behind Memphis for the No. 8 seed with five games left against teams with win percentages at or around .400. The Grizzlies actually have six games against opponents under those same conditions which is why I assume the odds are even this close, but they also have a couple of contests that will likely see them heavily favored to lose. The two teams actually play the last game of the regular season against one another which could prove to be the difference maker for the final spot, but even in a play-in situation, I think I'll always default to Curry, especially when he's playing at this level.
Heat to win Southeast Division (+260)
Friday's loss hurts this one pretty significantly considering the Hawks now hold the tiebreaker over Miami AND a two-game lead in the standings with just 12 games to go.
The Heat do have four essentially guaranteed wins whereas the Hawks have three (five if you think the Wizards can't possibly continue this hot streak), but the latter probably has a few more "obvious" losses. A home-and-home against the Bulls over the next three days might essentially be "the season" for the Heat when it comes to the Southeast division.
If the Heat can stay healthy – and they've had enough injury issues this year that they're probably due for a positive stretch – they certainly have the talent to make up the difference. Much like Curry, it's hard to bet against Jimmy Butler, especially when the odds are so promising.