2024 NBA Finals Odds Update: Celtics Favored Over the Wild West at the All-Star Break

By Scott Kacsmar

The NBA resumes Thursday night with the teams ready for the home stretch of the regular season after the All-Star break. The 2024 NBA Finals odds update sees the Boston Celtics favored over the Denver Nuggets and the rest of the Western Conference, which is exactly how things looked going into opening night too.

But there have been some wild ups and downs to the season already, and we still have plenty of questions to answer:

  • Can the Celtics (43-12) finally seal the deal and win a championship in the Jayson Tatum era?
  • Are the Nuggets waiting for the playoffs to hit that extra gear on the quest to repeat behind MVP favorite Nikola Jokic?
  • Can the Clippers stay healthy and go into the playoffs with their full arsenal of studs after shaking off a slow start following the James Harden trade?
  • What are the Bucks thinking with this Doc Rivers move?
  • Can the Timberwolves ride the No. 1 defense and the scoring of Anthony Edwards to a No. 1 seed and deep title run?
  • Is this the year for Luka Doncic to go on an epic postseason run to the NBA Finals in Dallas?
  • Can Joel Embiid return in time for the playoffs for the 76ers?
  • Will Shai Gilgeous-Alexander beat out Jokic for his first MVP and lead the Thunder to their first playoff series win since 2016?
  • The Indiana Pacers are the only team to beat the Celtics twice this year, so could they do it in a playoff upset behind Tyrese Haliburton?
  • Are the Lakers (No. 9 seed) and Warriors (No. 10 seed) nothing more than play-in tournament teams?

Just as a reminder, the longest preseason odds of any NBA champion since 1985 was +2800 by the 2014-15 Warriors before we knew they’d become the next dynasty.

Going back to 1976, the longest odds for a champion based on the odds at the start of the playoffs was +1800 by the 1995 Rockets and 2011 Mavericks.

Still, we have a long way to go before we can pencil in Celtics vs. Nuggets in the NBA Finals. Let’s look at the real contenders for the Finals and make our best pick today for who will win this championship.

All NBA Finals odds via FanDuel as of 2/22/2024.

The Most Likely Champions Tier (Odds of +230 to +650)

Our top tier of contenders is the one most likely to feature this season’s champion:

  • Boston Celtics (+230)
  • Denver Nuggets (+440)
  • Los Angeles Clippers (+500)
  • Milwaukee Bucks (+650)

The Boston Celtics (43-12) have been the best team in the NBA virtually all season. They did not win the In-Season Tournament as they slipped up against the Pacers, the only team to beat them twice so far this year. But the Celtics have the No. 1 offense, they are easily No. 1 in Net Rating (+10.2), and they have not lost back-to-back games in regulation this season. They are also 26-3 at home.

Expectations are so high for Boston that each game isn’t even a question of win or lose. It’s how much should they win. The Celtics have been a favorite of at least 7 points in their last 11 games. They have been a double-digit favorite 20 times this season, which is double that of Denver (10).

Jayson Tatum is shooting the ball as efficiently as ever with a career-high .554 eFG%, and he is averaging a career-high 4.8 assists per game. Jaylen Brown just made another All-Star game and his .492 FG% is a career high. Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday have fit in well this year. Derrick White is shooting the ball better than he ever has.

Things are clicking for Boston. As for the other preseason favorite, it’s hard to say the Denver Nuggets are having a bad title defense. They are still 36-19, good for No. 4 in the Western Conference, and Nikola Jokic is the favorite to win his third MVP award.

But compared to last year, the Nuggets have slipped a little in offensive efficiency, and they are only No. 10 in Net Rating as opposed to No. 6 last year. They are trying to run it back with a very similar roster with the biggest loss being Bruce Brown while veteran Reggie Jackson is the player getting significantly more minutes.

It’s not like the Nuggets were an overwhelming favorite going into last year’s tournament. But they should still have a big say in who wins it all this year as we know Jokic will perform at the highest level in the spring. We’ll see if the supporting cast can step up again too.

But the Clippers (36-17) are the kind of team that can unseat Denver in the West, especially if they can finish with the higher seed. They have one of the best coaches in Tyronn Lue. After that rough 3-7 start following the trade for James Harden, this team is on track with the best 3-point shooting in the league, four future Hall of Famers staying healthy, and the defense is good enough to get the job done.

We have not seen these Clippers stay healthy for the playoff runs in recent years. If they have health in their favor this year, you have to like their chances to go to the NBA Finals. Winning may be a different story, but they have enough to get there.

As for the other contender, the Milwaukee Bucks (35-21) are a frustrating team. Even though he was in his first year as the team’s head coach, Adrian Griffin was fired after a 30-13 start. The Bucks hired Doc Rivers, and they have gone 3-7 with him so far. There is even a story out there now that Rivers told the team “I do not understand” why Griffin was fired. Yikes, that’s a bad look for all parties involved.

At this point, why was Mike Budenholzer fired just a couple of seasons removed from a championship? The Bucks seem very confused about the coach, and hiring someone like Rivers, who has one ring with a super team and a long history of playoff chokes, does not look to be the right answer.

This was always going to be an experiment with Damian Lillard coming to town to join forces with Giannis Antetokounmpo, but they also were sacrificing some on defense by moving on from Jrue Holiday.

Has Lillard panned out so far? He’s had his moments, but the 33-year-old is only shooting .423 from the field and .341 from 3-point territory, which would be among the worst seasons in his career. His 24.6 points per game would be his lowest in a full season since 2014-15. His 6.7 assists per game matches his career average.

The Bucks rank 17th in Defensive Rating, which would be the team’s worst ranking since 2017-18 when they were 19th and lost a 7-game series in the first round to the Celtics.

At this point, the Bucks can only hope to see the Celtics in the playoffs this year, since that likely means the Eastern Conference Finals. But they are far from a lock to get there, let alone winning it all.

The “It Could Happen” Tier (Odds of +1400 to +4200)

Our second tier includes eight teams where there is at least some logical path to the NBA Finals and winning it all this year:

  • Phoenix Suns (+1400)
  • New York Knicks (+2100)
  • Minnesota Timberwolves (+2300)
  • Cleveland Cavaliers (+2500)
  • Oklahoma City Thunder (+2500)
  • Philadelphia 76ers (+3000)
  • Dallas Mavericks (+3600)
  • Miami Heat (+4200)

The Phoenix Suns (33-22) have hardly taken the league by storm this year, but they are 14-4 over the last five weeks. We are starting to see what that trio of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal can do together when healthy. The Suns have two trips to Denver coming up in March, so we’ll see how they stack up against the defending champs.

The New York Knicks (33-22) have a legitimate star in guard Jalen Brunson, who has silenced any critics this year as he averages 27.6 points and 6.5 assists per game in a career year. But it is true that teams led by point guards without a dominant big man rarely ever win championships in the NBA. The Knicks are 0-3 against the Celtics so far and may not have enough firepower for a deep playoff run.

The Minnesota Timberwolves continue being a surprise of this NBA season as the current No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The team’s over/under was only 44.5 wins and they are already at 39-16 thanks to the No. 1 defense, led by Rudy Gobert, the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year. That combo of defense and the scoring from Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns might work well in the playoffs, but we’ll see how the Timberwolves fair against Denver, the team that knocked them out in the first round. They won the first matchup this year but there are three more on the schedule coming up.

The Cleveland Cavaliers (36-17) are currently the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference thanks to a blistering hot 18-2 run after an 18-15 start to the season. They play very good defense (No. 2 in Defensive Rating) and got Evan Mobley back in late January to help that side of the court even more. But is the middling offense enough to outscore the likes of the Celtics, Bucks, and Knicks come playoff time? That seems to be in doubt given the odds here.

The Oklahoma City Thunder (+2500) are having an interesting season with a 37-17 record, the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. They have been sound on both sides of the court, ranked No. 4 in Offensive Rating and No. 6 in Defensive Rating. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is right up there with Nikola Jokic for the MVP race, and he leads the NBA in steals per game. They shoot the 3 very well (.393 ranks as the second-highest 3P%) and they cover the spread 62.3% of the time, the second-best record this year. The Thunder have not advanced past the first round since 2016, but they are 3-1 against the Nuggets this season and could be a real dark horse team.

The Philadelphia 76ers (32-22) saw their odds take a hit when Joel Embiid had to get surgery. They are 6-14 when he doesn’t play this season, and the outlook right now is hope for a return for the playoffs. They’ll have to make sure they get in the tournament first, but given this team’s lack of playoff success – they haven’t been past the semifinals since 2001 – even with Embiid on the court, it doesn’t look like Philadelphia’s year. But if he came back and balled out as the player who was averaging 35.3 points per game, then it’s a possibility for a deep playoff run. Just wouldn’t bet on it happening.

The Dallas Mavericks (32-23) have still not given Luka Doncic a championship-caliber supporting cast, but getting Kyrie Irving to stay healthy would help. The team did finish before the All-Star break on a 6-game winning streak after Irving returned, and Doncic is having another fantastic season, including his 73-point effort. He is the type of player who can take over games in the playoffs, but the Mavericks need to make sure Irving is playing at a high level for those series as well.

Like the Mavericks, the Miami Heat (30-25) are currently the No. 7 seed in their conference, and we know this team made a run to the NBA Finals last year as the No. 8 seed behind Jimmy Butler, an epic playoff performer. They still have one of the best coaches in Erik Spoelstra, so you can never count this team outcome playoff time. But they are 0-3 against Boston this season and they still are struggling on offense. Last year’s Cinderella run might have been the closest this core could get to a title.

The Longshots Tier (Odds of +5000 to +10000)

The last tier of teams we’ll still bother to consider for the championship has five true longshots:

  • Golden State Warriors (+5000)
  • Los Angeles Lakers (+5000)
  • New Orleans Pelicans (+5500)
  • Sacramento Kings (+6000)
  • Indiana Pacers (+10000)

Was the NBA’s In-Season Tournament a lie? It sure seemed like the Lakers and Pacers peaked early with that new part of the regular season. The Pacers (31-25) still have a fun offense to watch with Tyrese Haliburton leading the way, but the defense isn’t good enough to expect this team to be competing for a championship this year.

The Lakers and Warriors are both sitting at +5000 odds as they would be the No. 9 and No. 10 seeds and have to participate in the play-in tournament if the playoffs started this week. They actually meet each other Thursday night, though LeBron James is out with an injury.

The Lakers and Warriors have some things in common with Steph Curry and James among the oldest players in the league, and with the talent around them aging and in decline too, they can’t always carry the team to wins like they could when they were younger.

It didn’t help Golden State’s cause when Draymond Green served a 12-game suspension for some violent outbursts on the court. But you probably can’t rule Golden State out entirely just yet. The Warriors are 8-2 in their last 10 games and Jonathan Kuminga is stepping up in his third season with 15.5 points per game to replace the production lost from Jordan Poole. Curry is still a demon from 3-point territory, and this team is always tough to beat in a best-of-7 series. But the goal for the Western Conference is to keep winning and keep Golden State out of the tournament.

In a strange twist, the Warriors, long considered a fantastic homecourt team, are only 14-14 at home and 13-12 on the road this season. Last year, Golden State was infamously 33-8 at home and 11-30 on the road.

As for the Lakers, the winners of the In-Season Tournament, it’s been more of the same mediocrity from last year when the offense ranked 20th in Offensive Rating. This year they rank 19th, so there is not much of an improvement under coach Darvin Ham.

A title run for either the Lakers or Warriors doesn’t look likely right now.

The Pelicans (33-22) have arguably underachieved a little as they rank 6th in the Simple Rating System at Basketball Reference and No. 8 in Net Rating. But they are actually minus 6.3 points in Net Rating with Zion Williamson on the court compared to when he’s off.

The Sacramento Kings (31-23) are barely hanging onto the No. 8 seed as their offense has gone from No. 1 last year to No. 14 this season. You could handle that type of decline if the defense suddenly got elite, but they are only 18th in Defensive Rating this year.

Shooting Your Championship Shot Today

Is this the year to trust Tatum and the Celtics to win it all?

  • The 76ers always seem to fall short in the first or second round, and Embiid is injured.
  • Boston is just flat-out better than teams like the Cavaliers and Knicks, who rely so heavily on superior guard play while the Celtics can simply outscore them and still defend well too.
  • Hard to trust a team coached by Doc Rivers in the playoffs, and the Bucks have not gone on many long runs with Giannis outside of the 2021 championship win.
  • If we’re being honest about Denver, the Nuggets beat a pair of No. 8 seeds and a No. 7 seed in last year’s tournament, and they did not add any star to the roster this year.
  • If the Celtics get back to the Finals, they likely won’t have to worry about Steph Curry and the Warriors being there again or old nemesis LeBron James with the Lakers.

Boston (+230 at FanDuel) is the right pick on the Eastern Conference side of things, but if you had to hedge from the West, the Clippers (+500) are the team I’m backing right now. Trust that Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and James Harden stay healthy down the stretch, and that lineup combined with Lue’s coaching should be enough to produce a good shot at a championship.

We’ll reevaluate come playoff time because anything can happen on the injury front in this league as recent years have shown.

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