NBA 2024 Playoffs Preview: Denver Nuggets Repeat or Boston Celtics Finish the Job?

By Scott Kacsmar

The NBA 2024 playoffs tip off for real this Saturday afternoon now that the Play-in Tournament concluded Friday night. We have our field of 16 teams vying for the championship. Will we see the Denver Nuggets repeat, or will the Boston Celtics finish the job?

Boston was the favorite coming into this NBA season and did not disappoint with a league-best 64-18 record. While the Nuggets (57-25) tied for the second-best record in the NBA, they did not secure home-court advantage with the No. 1 seed as that surprisingly went to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

But the oddsmakers see this as a two-team race to the championship with the Celtics (+120 at FanDuel) and Nuggets (+320) having by far the best odds to win it all. Are they right? We look at which team has the inside track to a ring, and if there are any good values in the rest of the field as we go through our 2024 playoffs preview before the first round gets underway.

We look at where the 16 playoff teams stand, sorted by their descending odds to win the NBA Finals. We have included their preseason odds and their odds to advance in the first round.

Preseason odds are from Basketball Reference. All current odds are from FanDuel unless otherwise specified.

1. Boston Celtics (+120)

  • Record: 64-18
  • Net Rating: +11.6 (No. 1)
  • Preseason Championship Odds: +450
  • First Round Series Odds: -3000 vs. Heat (via DraftKings)

The Boston Celtics have reached at least the Eastern Conference Finals in 3-of-4 seasons since the 2020 bubble. But it would be a big disappointment if they did not finish the job this year and finally win a championship in the Jayson Tatum era.

Boston was the story all season long with a 64-18 record in a conference that only produced one other 50-win team (Knicks were 50-32). That can be a curse or a blessing. Some may say the weak schedule – Boston’s strength of schedule was the second easiest in the league – padded Boston’s record and statistics, including their No. 1 Offensive Rating and No. 3 Defensive Rating.

But then when you consider how many great teams the Celtics have had in their team history, and this 2023-24 team ranks No. 1 (10.75) among them all in Simple Rating System (SRS), the metric at Basketball Reference that takes strength of schedule into account.

The five previous highest Boston teams in SRS all won the championship, including the 2007-08 Celtics (9.30) with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joining forces to help Paul Pierce get over the hump. That was the previous highest SRS in Boston history for a single season, beating out any team with Bill Russell or Larry Bird.

The Celtics were 37-4 at home this year, so good luck to any team trying to steal games there. They also get an immediate boost in the first round with Jimmy Butler’s injury knocking him out of action. That makes Miami a massive underdog, so last year’s upset in the Eastern Conference Finals against No. 8 Miami should be easy revenge this year.

The Celtics are 2-1 against both Orlando and Cleveland, which would be their semifinal opponent. They are also 3-1 against the 76ers, 4-1 against the Knicks, and 3-2 against the Pacers. They are only 2-2 against the Bucks, though an injury to Giannis Antetokounmpo to begin this postseason could help eliminate that matchup.

But interestingly enough, the Celtics were 0-2 against Denver (1-1 against Oklahoma City). Maybe we’ll see that play out later, and Boston will have home court for it.

Boston comes into the first round healthy. Tatum and Jaylen Brown are getting the help they need from Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday. The defense is holding up. Head coach Joe Mazzulla has some experience under his belt, so hopefully he learned some things from that playoff loss to Miami last year.

It feels like championship or bust for Boston this year. The team has been close in the past, including the loss to Golden State in the 2022 NBA Finals. This is the year to get over the hump and finish the job.

2. Denver Nuggets (+320)

  • Record: 57-25
  • Net Rating: +5.4 (No. 4)
  • Preseason Championship Odds: +450
  • First Round Series Odds: -420 vs. Lakers

You had to question if the Nuggets could run it back with the same core group from last year, but here they are with a team that is statistically stronger than last year’s:

  • The Nuggets won 57 games after winning 53 last year.
  • The 2023-24 Nuggets rank No. 5 in Offensive Rating, same as 2022-23, but they improved from No. 15 to No. 8 in Defensive Rating.
  • The Nuggets’ Net Rating is +5.4 this year after it was +3.4 in 2022-23.
  • Last year, Denver’s Simple Rating System (SRS) was 3.04 (No. 6), and it improved to 5.23 (No. 4) this year.

The margins are not huge, but you can say it was a better regular season for Denver. Will it be a better postseason? That’s hard to do, especially when the Nuggets are likely to face a stronger group of teams on the way to another championship. Forget just potentially facing a much tougher opponent in the Finals in Boston, but they’re starting out with LeBron James and the Lakers, a tougher test than a No. 8-seeded Minnesota team.

Sure, the Nuggets swept the Lakers last year, but those games were close late. Denver just always found a way to get it done with some crazy shots. Also, this year Denver may have to travel to Oklahoma City for the Western Conference Finals after not securing the No. 1 seed.

It is going to be a tougher road to the Finals this year. But Nikola Jokic is still the best in the game right now as he likely did enough to win a third MVP award. It will come down to whether Jamal Murray and the rest of his supporting cast can make enough key shots and plays to help him finish the job again.

We know the NBA loves a repeat champ.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder (+1300)

  • Record: 57-25
  • Net Rating: +7.4 (No. 2)
  • Preseason Championship Odds: +10000
  • First Round Series Odds: -650 vs. Pelicans

Few probably imagined the Oklahoma City Thunder would finish 57-25 and get the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference this year. But this was a very young team that has seen Shai Gilgeous-Alexander improve to an MVP candidate with 30.1 points per game, Jalen Williams got better in Year 2, and we finally got to see Chet Holmgren play after the No. 2 pick in the 2022 draft missed his rookie season with a foot injury.

It also helps when your team stays healthy. You’ll see us mention multiple injuries for other teams below this year, but with the Thunder, all five of their starters had at least 71 starts this year, which is great.

Even better, they’re starting the playoffs with their guys healthy. That can’t be said for first-round opponent New Orleans, who will miss Zion Williamson for a few weeks.

The Thunder are very balanced, ranked No. 3 in Offensive Rating and No. 4 in Defensive Rating. A lack of big-game experience is their only shortcoming at this point. SGA hasn’t played in a playoff game since 2020, years before he was the superstar he is now. The Thunder lost in Game 7 in Houston that year. Obviously, neither Williams nor Holmgren have played in the NBA postseason before.

But with a 3-1 record against Denver and 1-1 against Boston this year, maybe SGA puts on an all-time playoff run and carries this team to the Finals. The Thunder are 15-2 when he scores at least 35 points in a game this season.

4. Dallas Mavericks (+1600)

  • Record: 50-32
  • Net Rating: +2.2 (No. 14)
  • Preseason Championship Odds: +2500
  • First Round Series Odds: -134 vs. Clippers

We have seen Giannis Antetokounmpo (2021) and Nikola Jokic (2023) break through in recent years to win their first championship. Could this be Luka Doncic’s year? He is arguably the best player in the NBA right now without a ring, but that’s not for a lack of great performances on his part in the postseason. He just hasn’t had as much team help in Dallas.

This year, Doncic will have Kyrie Irving in the playoffs for the first time in their careers. The Mavericks are +7.9 in Net Rating with Irving on the court this season, and he is good to go this series.

Giving Dallas a boost is that Kawhi Leonard is questionable for Game 1 for the Clippers, a team that Doncic has faced multiple times in the playoffs with varying success.

Dallas’ underwhelming defense (18th in Defensive Rating) shouldn’t hurt in the first round. But what if they have to play the Thunder in the semifinals? Dallas was 1-3 against the Thunder this season.

These days, you need a Big Three, and sometimes an unheralded fourth contributor to win a championship. There still may not be enough in Dallas for Doncic to go the distance.

5. Philadelphia 76ers (+1700)

  • Record: 47-35
  • Net Rating: +3.1 (No. 8)
  • Preseason Championship Odds: +1800
  • First Round Series Odds: -105 vs. Knicks

From trading a disgruntled James Harden to seeing Joel Embiid suffer a serious injury, this season always felt like it could go off the rails for the 76ers. But here they are with Embiid back, and while he’s listed as questionable for Game 1, chances are he’ll play.

The 76ers are +10.0 points better in Net Rating with Embiid on the court this season. Alas, they are 1-3 against the Knicks this year and the losses were not very close.

The odds are basically even in this first round series between the 76ers and Knicks, a rarity for the 7-2 matchup. But if the 76ers are going to advance past the semifinals for the first time since 2001, Embiid has to step his game up this time of year. We just haven’t seen that happen over all these years.

The good news for the 76ers is they get to avoid Boston in the semifinals as they would play the winner of Bucks-Pacers. The bad news? Philadelphia has a losing record (3-11) against the Knicks (1-3), Celtics (1-3), Pacers (1-2), and Bucks (0-3) this season.

6. Los Angeles Clippers (+1800)

  • Record: 51-31
  • Net Rating: +3.4 (No. 7)
  • Preseason Championship Odds: +2200
  • First Round Series Odds: +110 vs. Mavericks

The Clippers shook off that slow 3-7 start to finish 51-31, but they are a slight underdog in the first round against a familiar foe in Luka Doncic and the Mavericks. All eyes were on the Clippers early this year when they traded for James Harden. This season was going to be judged by how this roster, with four future Hall of Famers, manages its health to get to the playoffs in good shape.

Well, here we go again with Kawhi Leonard, the most important of those four players, questionable to play Game 1 due to inflammation in his surgically-repaired knee. Leonard has not played since March 31.

The Clippers are 7-7 when Leonard misses a game this year, but they are unlikely to advance past Dallas if he misses several games here. Leonard is a big-time scorer, especially in the playoffs, and you need that when you know what Doncic is going to bring each game. The Clippers also are just 17th in Defensive Rating, which doesn’t scream championship caliber.

This team has the star potential and coaching to go the distance, but proving they can stay healthy for a full run just never seems to be in the cards for these Clippers.

7. Phoenix Suns (+2400)

  • Record: 49-33
  • Net Rating: +3.1 (No. 9)
  • Preseason Championship Odds: +600
  • First Round Series Odds: -140 vs. Timberwolves

The Suns disappointed a bit by not reaching 50 wins and settling for a No. 6 seed. However, Bradley Beal missed 29 games with injuries, so the new Big Three with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker was not on display as often as the team hoped to see.

They are healthy now, and that’s ultimately what counts in the NBA playoffs. Last year, this was a 2-man team at this point with Durant and Booker. This year, they have Beal, and Grayson Allen led the NBA by making 46.1% of his 3-point shots.

We know the team has great scoring capability, but are they going to defend like you need to in the postseason? They were only 13th in Defensive Rating this year, and their first opponent, Minnesota, has the best defense in the NBA. That makes for an intriguing first-round matchup of elite offensive players against the best team defense.

Seeing Durant-led teams disappoint in the playoffs has become a common theme. The Suns may get past Minnesota, but does it have enough to beat Denver in the semifinals if that’s the matchup? The Suns were able to beat the Nuggets twice in March.

8. Minnesota Timberwolves (+2400)

  • Record: 56-26
  • Net Rating: +6.6 (No. 3)
  • Preseason Championship Odds: +6600
  • First Round Series Odds: +114 vs. Suns

The Timberwolves were a pleasant surprise this season. They went from a No. 8 seed with a 42-40 record to challenging for that top seed and winning 56 games behind the No. 1 defense, led by Rudy Gobert. They are a bit middling on offense (16th in Offensive Rating) despite having Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, but this team will hope defense can be their identity in the postseason.

Still, they are underdogs in the opening round despite having home court as the No. 3 seed against the Suns. It makes some sense when you consider the Timberwolves are 0-3 against Phoenix, including a pair of losses in April. The Suns are healthy and have the star power in Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and don’t forget Bradley Beal’s addition.

It’s not a great matchup for Minnesota to keep up with that scoring potential from Phoenix. But if it does in the first round, things could get interesting as the Timberwolves were 2-2 against Denver, 2-2 against Oklahoma City, 3-1 against Dallas, and 1-1 against Boston this year.

9. New York Knicks (+2700)

  • Record: 50-32
  • Net Rating: +4.8 (No. 5)
  • Preseason Championship Odds: +5000
  • First Round Series Odds: -115 vs. 76ers

Is this Jalen Brunson’s moment? He’s had a chip on his shoulder all season after some questioned his elite status months ago. He made his first All-Star team, averaged a career-high 28.7 points per game, and he finished the season on a tear with seven straight 30-point games, and the Knicks were 6-1 in them to earn the No. 2 seed.

But with the odds almost even in the first round against Philadelphia, this could be just the second time since 1988 that a No. 2 seed is an underdog to the No. 7 seed in the opening round. The only other time it happened was in 2021 when the Lakers were favored against No. 2 seed Phoenix due to LeBron James and Anthony Davis being healthy. But Davis was again hurt, and the Suns won that series 4-2.

Could history repeat itself? If the 76ers close as the favorite, it’s clearly because Joel Embiid is back and he makes that team a lot more dangerous. But the Knicks had a very good year, Brunson is on fire, and the Knicks have three wins by at least 14 points against the 76ers this year.

The Knicks lost Julius Randle to a season-ending injury, but he’s missed 26 games, so they have gotten used to playing without him.

This is a crucial series in the first round, because the winner will have a fare shot of advancing in the next round too against the winner of Bucks-Pacers.

You have to like the style of the Knicks with a guard who can completely take over a game in Brunson, a hot 3-point shooter in Donte DiVincenzo, and they play the slowest pace in the league, leading to a grind-out defensive style that could serve them well in the postseason.

If you look at the following graph, officials are swallowing their whistles and free throws are down. We could see this continue or even increase in the postseason.

Could the Knicks be the team that challenges Boston? Maybe not given the Knicks are 0-4 against the Celtics this year. But if they can get past the 76ers in the first round, you never know what can happen later.

In the end, there’s probably not enough here to win a championship.

10. Milwaukee Bucks (+2700)

  • Record: 49-33
  • Net Rating: +2.6 (No. 12)
  • Preseason Championship Odds: +600
  • First Round Series Odds: +106 vs. Pacers

In honor of 4/20, we have to ask if the Milwaukee Bucks were high when they fired new coach Adrian Griffin after a 30-13 start. It never made any sense, and hiring Doc Rivers backfired as he was 17-19 down the stretch.

The big change to essentially replace Jrue Holiday with Damian Lillard did not quite work out so far. The improvement on offense was not enough to outweigh the drop on defense as the Bucks are only No. 19 in Defensive Rating, which is hard to win a championship with. It’s also not like they got Prime Dame, who averaged 24.3 points, 7.0 assists, and his .424 FG% is the third-lowest season of his career.

But all eyes right now are on the calf of superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. He was injured in early April and missed the final three games. He is doubtful for Game 1 of this series against Indiana, and he could miss multiple games. The Bucks are used to this as he has missed playoff games in three other postseasons, but that’s not good news by any means.

Worse, the Bucks are 1-4 against Indiana this year and have not been able to slow them down from scoring. We have seen the Bucks light it up from 3-point territory in games without Giannis before. They can probably survive a few games without him.

But in terms of putting it all together to go on a deep run and seriously challenge Boston to get to the NBA Finals? Not on my Doc, or I mean watch. You can’t trust this team, and they never should have changed the coach during the season. That was an absurd decision.

11. Los Angeles Lakers (+3000)

  • Record: 47-35
  • Net Rating: +0.6 (No. 19)
  • Preseason Championship Odds: +1500
  • First Round Series Odds: +310 vs. Nuggets

The Lakers are kings of winning games that don’t technically count on their record this year. They beat Indiana in the first ever in-season tournament in December, and they won the play-in tournament game in New Orleans to claim the No. 7 seed.

Their reward is another shot at the Nuggets, the team that swept them last year in the Western Conference Finals despite every game being within reach in the fourth quarter for Los Angeles.

Has anything truly changed this year? Perhaps not. Both teams are still in the bottom three in attempting 3-point shots. Denver has the same core roster and Nikola Jokic is still playing like the MVP of the league. LeBron James continues to be ageless in a season where he reached 40,000 points and averaged at least 25.0 points per game for the 20th year in a row.

But the Lakers are still mediocre on both sides of the court and rank 19th in Net Rating. They are underwhelming as a rebound team, especially at creating second chances on offense.

Then there’s the fact that Denver is 3-0 against the Lakers this season, and yes, James and Anthony Davis played in each of those games. The Nuggets just seem to have their number right now. An upset in the first round could send the Lakers on a deep run, but chances are we see more of Jokic dominating, the Lakers running out of gas, and Denver advancing.

12. Cleveland Cavaliers (+3600)

  • Record: 48-34
  • Net Rating: +2.5 (No. 13)
  • Preseason Championship Odds: +2500
  • First Round Series Odds: -205 vs. Magic

The Cavaliers underachieved a little this year with a 48-34 record when their preseason total was 50.5 wins, and they were 51-31 last season when they lost in the first round to the Knicks.

But can this team go farther in the playoffs this time? Most likely, yes. The Cavaliers are favored against Orlando with home-court advantage in the 4-5 matchup. But the teams did split their matchups this year (2-2).

It is worth pointing out that both Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland missed more games than they did last year with neither playing in 60 games this season. That contributes to the record and statistics being worse on both sides of the court in 2023-24.

The Cavaliers are +9.0 points better in Net Rating with Mitchell on the court this year. He has missed a lot of games down the stretch, but he says he feels 100% and ready for the playoff run.

But even if Cleveland beats Orlando, the bracket is fixed to face Boston in the semifinals, barring an all-time choke by the Celtics in the first round. Cleveland may have enough defense and special scoring efforts out of their guards to steal a game or two in that hypothetical series, but the chances are Boston eliminates Cleveland in the semifinals this year.

13. Indiana Pacers (+5000)

  • Record: 47-35
  • Net Rating: +3.0 (No. 10)
  • Preseason Championship Odds: +25000
  • First Round Series Odds: -132 vs. Bucks

Remember when the Indiana Pacers were all the rage early in the season with a great offense and Tyler Haliburton turning into a superstar before our unexpected eyes? Well, that kind of peaked in the first week of December when the Pacers upset the Celtics and Bucks in the in-season tournament before losing to the Lakers in the championship game for that inaugural experiment.

The Pacers had a 2-6 stretch after the tournament, then Haliburton started seeing the injuries pile up while his stats went down. He went from averaging 26.9 points and 12.1 assists per game through his team’s first 20 games to 17.7 points and 10.5 assists per game the rest of the season.

The good news is Indiana finished well with a 6-2 stretch to earn the No. 6 seed. Even better, the Pacers are drawing the Bucks, who are on a 3-8 stretch and are unlikely to have Giannis Antetokounmpo (calf) to start this series.

As if the circumstances can’t get any better, the Pacers are 4-1 against Milwaukee this season, often lighting up that defense with their shooting.

It gives the Pacers a fair shot to advance past the first round as they are a slight favorite in this series despite being the No. 6 seed. But the health of Giannis has a lot to do with that. The other good news is the Pacers have notched a pair of wins against Boston this year, not something many teams can say.

But it would be a huge longshot for the Pacers to go the distance to the title with the lack of recent elite play from Haliburton. Just winning a playoff series would still be a successful season as the Pacers have not done that since advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2014, a whole decade ago.

14. Orlando Magic (+12000)

  • Record: 47-35
  • Net Rating: +2.1 (No. 15)
  • Preseason Championship Odds: +25000
  • First Round Series Odds: +164 vs. Cavaliers

Another preseason longshot, the Orlando Magic are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2019-20. Their 47 wins are the team’s most since the 2010-11 season. However, Orlando has not won a playoff series since 2010, and that streak could continue this year as they are an underdog against the Cavaliers, who they were 2-2 against this season.

The Magic are about as imbalanced as any team in the playoffs as they rank No. 2 in Defensive Rating but only No. 22 in Offensive Rating. Paolo Banchero showed some improvement in his second season after he won Rookie of the Year in 2022-23. But we’ll see how he handles his first postseason action.

Orlando will be an underdog in every round, but more likely than not, the first round is where this team’s season ends. Still, it was progress for the franchise, and props to the Magic for covering the spread 62.2% of the time this year – no other team is above 58.5%.

15. New Orleans Pelicans (+13000)

  • Record: 49-33
  • Net Rating: +4.5 (No. 6)
  • Preseason Championship Odds: +4000
  • First Round Series Odds: +440 vs. Thunder

The Pelicans did a good job to beat the Kings on Friday night and clinch the last playoff spot. But not clinching earlier came at a cost as Zion Williamson injured his hamstring while having a great game against the Lakers on Tuesday. He expects to be out for 2 weeks, which puts any involvement in this tough first-round matchup with the Thunder in doubt.

The Pelicans are 1-2 against Oklahoma City this year, and the win came way back on November 1st. The Thunder clearly have the edge with Williamson out, and C.J. McCollum is shooting blanks this week in the play-in tournament. They are really going to miss Williamson’s inside scoring.

We’re used to seeing the No. 8 seed go down quickly in the NBA. It’s a shame that Zion’s playoff debut is likely going to have to wait another year as we still have not seen him play in an NBA playoff game.

16. Miami Heat (+24000)

  • Record: 46-36
  • Net Rating: +1.8 (No. 16)
  • Preseason Championship Odds: +1600
  • First Round Series Odds: +1300 vs. Celtics (via DraftKings)

Can history repeat itself for a No. 8 seeded Miami team shocking the highly favored Celtics? Yes, but it’s less likely in the first round. At least last year, we saw Miami gain confidence through each round on its way to upsetting Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals.

This year, the Celtics only got stronger, they improved their starting lineup, and Miami had another year where it had to survive the play-in tournament to get the last seed in a weakened Eastern Conference.

Oh, I probably should have used a better word than “survived” because you could argue they did not despite the win. The Heat lost Jimmy Butler to a likely MCL injury in Wednesday’s game against the 76ers, and that will keep him out for weeks.

Miami was already 0-3 against Boston this year. Can last year’s history repeat itself without Playoff Jimmy Butler? No, it really cannot. It would be in the running for the biggest upset in NBA playoff history if the Heat pulled this one off, but a sweep is more likely than anything.

Best Bets for NBA Playoffs

So, who is winning the NBA Finals this year?

We’ll start by saying our best bet of them all right now is on the NBA Finals being Boston Celtics vs. Denver Nuggets (+220 at FanDuel). Nothing screams “common NBA result” like the defending champs with the best player (Jokic) facing the best team in the league.

Look, the NBA is not huge on upsets. We saw LeBron James go to the Finals for 8 years in a row in 2011-18, including a 4-year saga of Warriors vs. Cavaliers in 2015-18.

Boston not getting out of the East would be a shock given Jimmy Butler’s injury, the usual playoff struggles for Joel Embiid and the 76ers, and you have another Giannis injury situation, an Indiana team that is too green, and a New York team that is going to struggle to score on the Celtics.

In the Western Conference, Denver has a tougher road. But you still want to trust Jokic and the guys to get it done over the Lakers, who they have won 7 games in a row against. Maybe the Mavericks can take out the Clippers in the first round with Leonard injured, and Jokic can match Doncic while Denver still has the better supporting cast.

Can Oklahoma City beat Denver? Sure, but I still side with experience in that matchup, and Denver knows what it takes to get through these best-of-7 series. Oklahoma City is still learning and may rely too heavily on SGA.

Not even sweating it, my favorite bet is Celtics vs. Nuggets in the NBA Finals this year.

NBA Best Pick: NBA Finalists 2023-24 – Boston Celtics vs. Denver Nuggets (+220) at FanDuel

But who wins in a Celtics vs. Nuggets series? We know Denver is 2-0 against Boston this year, but Boston would have home court. But I think Denver is the choice there as no one has really found a blueprint to stop Jokic, and the supporting cast knows how to hit the clutch plays in ways we haven’t really seen Boston do consistently enough under the leadership of Tatum and Brown.

Alas, the Celtics are +120 to win the championship going into the playoffs, which is a bit absurd. That is the highest for a pre-playoff favorite since the 2019 Warriors were -178, and that team did not win (lost to Toronto).

In fact, the favorite to win it all going into the playoffs has not actually won it all since the Warriors did that in both 2017 and 2018. Chalk has not been successful the last five years.

My gut says Jokic is on a historic run, and a repeat on a team that is unlikely to send multiple players to the Hall of Fame will be his legacy for it. I’m backing the repeat, and I think you can get the best value (+600) by picking the exact result of Denver beating Boston in the NBA Finals.

NBA Pick: NBA Finals Exact Result – Denver Nuggets to Beat Boston Celtics (+600) at FanDuel

Finally, we wanted to make a pick that isn’t about Boston or Denver for the NBA Finals. What’s the value play for a different team to win it all this year? We know everyone from Oklahoma City (+1300) and beyond has long odds, which is significant to know.

Since 1976, only two teams have won the NBA Finals with pre-playoff odds longer than +1000:

  • The 1995 Rockets were +1800 before repeating in a playoff field that had Michael Jordan back in the East, but he was still rusty from his baseball trip.
  • The 2011 Mavericks were also +1800 before Dirk Nowitzki led that epic run through the Trail Blazers, Lakers, Thunder, and Heat.

Is there a team out there with that kind of chance this year? My gut says Embiid will come up short again, Doncic won’t get enough help, SGA and the Thunder will show their inexperience short of the Finals, and I generally don’t trust teams with Karl-Anthony Towns and Kevin Durant to finish in the playoffs.

Who does that leave? Those Clippers with the core of Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Paul George, and Russell Westbrook to go along with a great coach in Tyronn Lue. Maybe they thrive with home court over Dallas, Kawhi comes back shortly, and they find a way to pull it off this year.

That’s my dark horse pick. The Knicks (+2700) are also tempting, but I just don’t think a team led by a guard like Brunson can get it done without the presence of an all-time center like Kobe Bryant had with Shaquille O’Neal, or the overall great shooting the Warriors supplied Steph Curry with.

But the main takeaway here is that the staggering odds for Boston and Denver to clash should not be ignored. That’s the matchup the other 14 teams are going to try breaking up, and I don’t think they do it.

But with injuries, you never know what can happen as we’ve seen in the last decade. Enjoy the playoffs and we’ll be back in later rounds to see how things are going.

NBA Pick: NBA Championship 2023-2024 – Los Angeles Clippers (+1800) at FanDuel

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