The Eastern Conference race is extremely tight.
Prior to Wednesday’s games, the Heat hold the top spot by a half-game and only two games separate the sixth-place 76ers from Miami.
Typically, the East is the lesser of the two conferences, but six of the top 10 teams by winning percentage are from the East this season (though the three teams with the best records hail from out the Western Conference).
Brooklyn remains the SI Sportsbook favorite to represent the Eastern conference in the NBA Finals. They’re the favorites despite Kevin Durant’s MCL injury that has kept him out for the last five games and will sideline him through at least the All-Star Game, Kyrie Irving’s inability to play in home games due to his vaccination status and rumors about James Harden’s future in Brooklyn.
Our writers discussed which team they’re backing to come out of the East and will predict which team will do so in the West and who will win the Finals over the next few weeks. Here are the current Eastern Conference future odds:
SI Fantasy’s Craig Ellenport:
I’m sticking with the chalk and taking the Nets to win the East. Perhaps if you give it a few weeks, the Nets will lose a few games with Kevin Durant out of the lineup and you can get better odds. But Durant actually gets a nice respite here in the middle of the season as he nurses a knee injury. When he comes back, I have more faith in KD carrying his team than anyone else in the East. Durant is determined to bring a championship to Brooklyn and I’m not betting against him at least making it to the Finals.
BET: Nets (+140)
SI.com’s Robin Lundberg:
Picking an Eastern Conference champion is tough because for the first time in a long while I think the East is actually better than the West. There are some strong contenders at the top, including the defending champs in the Bucks and the resilient Heat. However, I will stick with the Nets. Kyrie Irving’s playing status remains the biggest variable in the entire NBA and the Nets are in the midst of a rough patch. But if they are healthy and have their top players available, I believe Brooklyn is the team to beat since titles aren’t won in January.
BET: Nets (+140)
SI Fantasy and Betting’s Kyle Wood:
Are we forgetting about the team that won it all last season? The Bucks still have Giannis Antetokounmpo and he proved this past summer that, until further notice, the East goes through Milwaukee. Sure, the Heat can throw Bam Adebayo at the two-time MVP or the 76ers can have Joel Embiid matchup with him, but no one is stopping Antetokounmpo. The Bucks have the seventh-best offensive and defensive ratings, and there’s always the possibility Brook Lopez can return to anchor Milwaukee on both sides of the ball. I like the healthy, available Big 3 of Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton up against any trio in the NBA. The Bucks are going back to the Finals.
BET: Bucks (+300)
SI Betting’s Matt Ehalt:
The Nets are the best team in the East, but I don’t like betting chalk in futures and there is lots of uncertainty. How much will Kyrie Irving play? Is James Harden already planning his exit? Can they stay healthy? So, I’m going to pass. I’m also fading the Bucks making it in back-to-back years. So let’s take a shot with Miami at +550, which is much better value than both Brooklyn and Milwaukee. The Heat are a tough team with a good coach and players who have competed for championships. Their front office is always aggressive and willing to make big moves if they’re a title contender. I’m willing to gamble on Miami.
BET: Heat (+550)
SI.com’s Wilton Jackson:
When Kyrie Irving made his way back to the Nets’ lineup, I was one of the first to say he increased Brooklyn’s chances of winning a championship and rightfully so. However, that was under the impression that all three – Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving—would be playing together. But with Durant out, it looks like we’re headed back to a similar visual of what we saw last season—where the Big Three are limited in their playing time on the court. The lack of chemistry and playing time over an extended period of time between players—even superstars—always shows up in big situations. The Nets need all three on the court to win the Eastern Conference. I know Milwaukee has been average in its last ten games due to being limited in players but the Bucks have won three straight and are primed for a repeat when Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday are efficient. Miami, ravaged by injuries and COVID-19 last season, has dealt with its own injuries as well this year. But with Bam Adebayo back, Miami is surging and playing well at the right time. Given the body of work we’ve seen from the Heat—from The Bubble obviously—Miami can’t be taken for granted. It also goes without saying for the Bulls—despite their recent string of injuries—and the 76ers this season. Joel Embiid is playing at an MVP caliber, similar to last season. I am not writing the Nets off completely to win the East. But, I repeat, it will take all three stars along with the supporting cast for them to win the Eastern Conference and an NBA championship. The Nets are still my favorite, despite their current state.
BET: Nets (+140)
SI Fantasy’s Matt De Lima:
It’s hard to root against the Miami Heat with Bam Adebayo rolling, the steady leadership of Kyle Lowry, a returning Victor Oladipo, sniper-like three-point shooting from Tyler Herro and P.J. Tucker and, of course, the do-everything talents of superstar Jimmy Butler. There seems to be a hitch in the step of the other East contenders, so I’ll take the longer-than-they-should-be odds offered to the Heat.
BET: Heat (+550)
Get fantasy and betting analysis in your inbox by signing up for the Winners Club newsletter
More Betting, Fantasy and NBA:
• Bengals-Chiefs Betting Preview
• Roundtable: Super Bowl Future Bets
• Divisional Round Bad Beats and Big Payouts
• Roundtable: Which Men’s College Basketball Team Will Win it All?
• Men’s College Basketball Futures
• Start ’em, Sit ’em Conference Championship
• A Lakers’ Turnaround is Possible With A.D. Back