After three months, with little to do but rest and conduct Instagram Live interviews, the Celtics are emerging from their coronavirus-induced sabbaticals and find themselves gaining traction as a darkhorse team that could sneak by the Bucks in the East and maybe even pull off a shocker of an NBA title.
That, at least, appears to be the sentiment of the sportsbooks that have reset the NBA odds heading into its Disney World restart.
On SportsBetting.ag, the Celtics rank as the No. 2 favorite behind Milwaukee, at 6-to-1 to win the East. The Bucks are a 1-to-2 favorite. To win a championship, the Bucks (at 3-to-1) are the third choice behind the Lakers and Clippers. The Celtics are fourth, at 12-to-1.
What’s behind Boston’s strong standing among the betting public? If you listen to NBA scouts, it’s probably health. A few months off have given the Celtics a chance to come back at full strength.
“When they’re healthy, it’s the most talented staring five in the league, top-to-bottom,” one Eastern Conference scout told Heavy.com. “They have not had a chance to get themselves on the floor together, though. They had some really good stretches but if they’re all there and together, they’re versatile on both ends of the floor and they can play matchups probably better than anyone in the East.”
The Celtics have struggled to keep their starting five healthy all season. All five players have been injured for stretches. Jayson Tatum has the fewest games missed, at five. Daniel Theis has missed six.
But Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker have missed 14 games this season and Gordon Hayward missed 19. That five-some has been on the floor together just 16 times in 64 games this year. Going back to February, the team had concerns about swelling in Walker’s knee and the rest surely helped him.
Other betting outlets have the Celtics ranked just behind the Bucks in the East, too, even as the Raptors are ahead of them in the standings. Both Draft Kings and FanDuel have the Celtics at 22-to-1 to win a championship. PointsBet has Boston 16-to-1 to win it all.
Celtics Among 22 Teams Ready to Reboot
The NBA is now ramping up for a return to action after the season was suspended on March 11 following a positive coronavirus test from Jazz center Rudy Gobert. At the time, the country was just beginning to grapple with the effects of the novel coronavirus and drastic shutdown measures had not yet been implemented—the NBA was among the first major organizations to suspend operations in reaction to the pandemic.
The format calls for 22 teams to get back on the court in a restricted-access environment in Orlando, with the tipoff of the season coming on July 31. Eight teams, those which were not within 6.0 games of the final playoff spot in their respective conferences, were eliminated from further competition.
Current seeding has the Bucks at the top of the East, followed by No. 2 Toronto (6.5 games back), No. 3 Boston (9.5), No. 4 Miami (12), No. 5 Indiana (14) and No. 6 Philadelphia (14). The No. 7 and 8 seeds, currently Brooklyn and Orlando, are still being contested. The Nets are 30-34 and the Magic are 30-35.
Teams will play eight “regular season” games in Orlando.
Washington (24-40) could catch up to either team and would need to finish within 4.0 games of the No. 8 seed to force a play-in. It’s a longshot, though. The No. 9 seed will need to beat the No. 8 seed in two straight games to earn the No. 8 seed. If the Magic goes .500 in their eight games, the Wizards would need to go 6-2 to get to a play-in.
Western Conferece is Crowded
In the West, the Lakers are the top seed, at 49-14. The Clippers, at 44-20 (5.5 games back), are a longshot to catch them.
The Nuggets are the No. 3 seed (7 games back), followed by No. 4 Utah (8.5), No. 5 Oklahoma City (9.5), No. 6 Houston (9.5) and No. 7 Dallas (11). With the third-sixth seeds within 2.5 games of each other, the standings still could get scrambled.
At 32-33, Memphis has the No. 8 seed now. Portland, New Orleans and Sacramento are tied at 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies, but because the league will seed according to winning percentage, the Trail Blazers (.439) have a slight advantage over the others (.438) . The Spurs (4 games out of No. 8) and Suns (6 games out) have a longshot chance to break into the playoffs.
Assuming the Grizzlies don’t fold in the stretch, whichever team finishes ninth, if it is within 4.0 games of the Grizzlies, will have to beat Memphis twice to earn a spot in the playoffs.
The first round of the playoffs will begin on August 18. The Finals are projected to start September 30, with Game 7 scheduled for October 12.