NBA Playoffs Betting Preview: A Look at the Contenders & Pretenders

Feb 28, 2019

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Oskeim Sports previews the upcoming NBA playoffs and distinguishes the contenders from the pretenders.  Be sure to visit Oskeim’s Blog on a regular basis for all of your NBA playoffs news, notes and free sports picks.

Eastern Conference Playoff Picture

The playoff race is heating up in the Eastern Conference as the postseason is just weeks away. Many teams have under 25 games remaining on the schedule, making this the perfect time to dissect the playoff picture in the east.

First, the teams that aren’t quite in the running for a playoff spot yet, but have an outside shot of qualifying for the postseason.

In the Hunt

9. Orlando Magic (28-33)

Despite a rough start to the season, the Magic have returned to form as of late. Orlando is one of the NBA’s hottest teams at the moment, going 8-2 in the last 10 games.

The Magic have been led by European talent Nikola Vucevic. The Swiss-born Montenegrin has been essential for the Magic this season, leading Orlando in rebounding and scoring, averaging 20.6 points and 12.1 rebounds per game.

Vucevic, along with impact players Aaron Gordon and Terrence Ross, have Orlando back in the mix for a playoff appearance, as the Magic are just a half game back of the 8th and final playoff position in the east, trailing the Charlotte Hornets.

10. Miami Heat (26-33)

The Heat have struggled in the past month, falling out of the top eight in the east. Miami has lost 10 of the last 12 games, putting the team well below .500.

This poor streak comes at a bad time for the Heat, who are in need of results if they are going to make a run for the NBA playoffs.

A lack of offense is to blame for problems in Miami, as the Heat rank 13th in the east for points scored per game (105.1). The Heat have much work to do, as they currently trail the 9th place Magic by a game, and are a game and a half back from the Hornets in 8th place.

11. Washington Wizards (24-36)

It’s been an eventful year for the Washington Wizards, who ultimately find themselves far from playoff qualification with just 22 games left to play. Washington has had to cope with the loss of star guard John Wall, who suffered a season-ending injury off the court.

The Wizards have also underwent major roster changes, bringing in influential players, including Trevor Ariza and Jabari Parker. These players will have to make an impact fast, as the Wizards are four games back from a playoff spot.


1. Milwaukee Bucks (46-14)

The Bucks are heading into the last quarter of the season looking strong. Milwaukee has the NBA’s best record at the moment, and possibly its best player as well.

Led by MVP candidate Giannis Antetoukounmpo, the Bucks have the highest scoring offense in the Eastern Conference, averaging 117.0 points per game after 60 games.

Antetokounmpo has been essential in this success, leading the Bucks in scoring, rebounding, and assisting, averaging 27.2 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game this season. The Bucks have a two and a half game lead over the Raptors, who are in second place.

2. Toronto Raptors (44-17)

After picking up Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors have looked like an elite team in the east. Leonard has led the Raptors, scoring 26.9 points per game this season.

Forward Pascal Siakam has had a breakout season, averaging career highs in rebounding and scoring, 16.1 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. Toronto has been one of the best home teams in the NBA, registering a home record of 44-17.

The Raptors have taken advantage of this home form, positioning themselves in second place in the Eastern Conference, four games ahead of the third place Indiana Pacers.

3. Indiana Pacers (40-21)

One of the most well-rounded teams in the NBA this season has been the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers have been able to keep pace in the Eastern Conference, despite losing their star player, Victor Oladipo.

European talents Bojan Bogdanovic and Domantas Sabonis have been the most productive players for the Pacers. Bogdanovic is averaging 17.0 points per game, as Sabonis is averaging 14.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, providing the Pacers with efficient options going forward.

Young center Myles Turner is making his case for defender of the year this season, leading the league in blocks with 2.74 blocks per game. This Pacers core will have to stay consistent as the season comes to a close, as Indiana has just a one-game lead over the fourth place 76ers.

4. Philadelphia 76ers (39-22)

One of the most intriguing teams coming out of the east is the 76ers. Philly made one of the biggest trades before the deadline earlier this month, acquiring former Clippers forward Tobias Harris.

Harris has made an instant impact in Philadelphia, averaging 20.4 points and 8.1 rebounds in 7 games for the 76ers. Harris joins an already talented 76er squad, featuring world-class talents, such as Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid.

Add in Impact players like J.J. Reddick and Ben Simmons, and you have one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Expect the 76ers to make moves up the standings before the regular season ends. Philly is just one game behind the third-place Pacers.

5. Boston Celtics (37-23)

It’s been a disappointing season for the Celtics, who have underperformed in a year that many had them as the favorites in the east. Kyrie Irving looks like he is set to leave Boston at the end of the year, creating an almost awkward situation in Boston.

The Celtics are currently in fifth in the NBA playoffs race, and are projected to miss out on home court advantage in the postseason. The young talent of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier have been underwhelming this season, unable to produce at the level required for the Celtics to be considered a threat in the east.

The Celtics seem to be fading as the rest of the big teams in the Eastern Conference are getting better. Boston is a game and a half behind the 76ers in the east, but this gap is likely to grow before the season ends.

6. Brooklyn Nets (32-30)

One of the surprise teams out of the east has been the Nets. Led by a resurgent D’Angelo Russell, the Nets are looking like a lock to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference after a shambolic 2017-18 season.

In his second season after being traded from the Lakers, Russell is putting up career-high numbers, averaging 20.5 points and 6.7 assists per game. A gritty, young core has the Nets in sixth place in the east, three and a half games back from falling out of the playoff race.

7. Detroit Pistons (29-30)

Led by an elite frontcourt, the Pistons have fought their way into playoff contention. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond lead the lines for Detroit, with each putting up monster numbers this season.

Drummond is averaging 17.6 points and 15.1 rebounds per game, leading the NBA in rebounding. Griffin is the Pistons leading scorer on the season, and is averaging 25.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game.

Detroit is currently in 7th place, and have a two-game gap between themselves and the ninth-place Orlando Magic.

8. Charlotte Hornets (28-32)

The Hornets are clinging to the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Charlotte has struggled as of late, going 4-6 in the last ten games, slipping down the standings with each loss.

Star guard Kemba Walker will have to be the man to get the Hornets out of the slump. Walker is having his best season in his highly productive career, averaging 25.1 points per game.

The Hornets are just a half-game ahead of the Magic in the east and will have to stay consistent with just 22 games left to play.

Top Contenders

1. Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers look like the team most poised to reach The Finals out of the east. The starting five of Simmons, Reddick, Butler, Harris, and Embiid will be a very difficult team to beat in a best-of-seven series. Expect the 76ers to make a deep postseason run.

2. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks have the NBA’s best record for a reason. Giannis leads the line in Milwaukee, who have an explosive offense. The Bucks live by the three ball, which has the potential to slow a team down when they are slumping, making the Bucks a liability late in the postseason.

Nonetheless, they are still considered one of the biggest contenders this season.

3. Toronto Raptors

The midseason addition of Marc Gasol shows the championship ambitions in Toronto. Kawhi Leonard and company in Toronto have one of the most consistent and deepest squads in the Eastern Conference, making them a team to keep an eye on as the postseason nears.

Western Conference Playoff Picture

The playoff race is heating up in the Western Conference as the postseason is just weeks away. Many teams have under 25 games remaining on the schedule, making this the perfect time to dissect the playoff picture in the east.

First, the teams that aren’t quite in the running for a playoff spot yet, but have an outside shot of qualifying for the postseason.

In the Hunt

9. Sacramento Kings (31-29)

The young Sacramento Kings are looking to stir things up in the Western Conference. Move over, Lakers, the Kings are looking to be the third team representing California in the playoffs this season.

Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox have led the Kings so far this year with high-level guard play. Hield is averaging 20.7 points per game this season and is hitting the three-ball at 44%.

Fox has improved since his solid rookie season last year and is scoring 17.3 points per game this season, the second-leading scorer for the Kings. Sacramento is just one game back of the Spurs for the last playoff spot in the west, so keep an eye on this young Kings squad.

10. Minnesota Timberwolves (29-31)

Despite losing star Jimmy Butler earlier this season, the T-Wolves are still in the hunt for a postseason spot in the west. Karl-Anthony Towns has been the go-to guy in Minnesota, leading the Timberwolves in scoring and rebounding, averaging 23.3 points and 12.2 rebounds per game.

The Timberwolves have struggled away from home this season, going 9-21 in away games this season. They will have to improve on this away form if they are to make the postseason, as Minnesota is currently three games back from the eighth and final playoff spot in the west.

11. Los Angeles Lakers (29-31)

It’s been a season of disappointment for the Lakers and their fans this season. LeBron James brought much hope and expectations with him when joining the Lakers this past summer. These expectations have not been met, as the Lakers are set to miss the postseason yet again.

The Lakers lack any legitimate depth on their roster, with the young core of Ingram, Kuzma, and Ball unable to carry enough of the load necessary to be successful. LeBron is leading the Lakers in nearly every category, including scoring, assisting, and rebounding.

James is averaging 26.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 7.8 assists per game as a Laker this season, but his team is still in 10th place, three games from 8th place in the west.


1. Golden State Warriors (43-17)

The “golden” standard of the Western Conference this season has, yet again, been the Warriors. Golden State has the most explosive offense in the NBA, averaging 118.8 points per game.

This offense has been enough to put them at the top of the highly competitive west. Key players Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant have stayed healthy for the most part, with each member of the trio scoring at a high volume consistently all season.

The Warriors have just recently started implementing Demarcus Cousins into the starting lineup, making the scary Warriors even more dangerous. Golden State has a game and a half lead over the Nuggets in the west, and are looking like the favorite to make it out of the west.

2. Denver Nuggets (41-18)

The Nuggets are the team that started hot and never really faded away. Denver has kept pace with the best teams in the NBA, and have themselves in a fantastic position in the west with just 23 games left to play.

The Nuggets have found success in playing their unique style of fast-paced half court offense mixed with world-class defense. Denver is averaging the third least amount of points in the west at 106.8 points given up per game.

Fourth-year center Nikola Jokic has been an offensive leader for the Nuggets this season, putting up 20.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game this season.

The Nuggets have a three-game lead over the third place Thunder, but trail the Warriors by a game and a half.

3. Oklahoma City (38-21)

The Thunder look to be one of the most exciting teams in the NBA this season. Guard Russell Westbrook is 23 games away from averaging a triple-double for the third year running, an absolutely unheard of statistic.

Westbrook is averaging 22.5 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 11.0 assists per game. Even with these monster numbers, Westbrook might not be the most valuable player on his team.

Forward Paul George has been huge for OKC this year as well, scoring the second most points per game in the NBA this season, averaging 28.7 points. With these two superstars, the Thunder have the potential to beat anyone in a best-of-seven series in the postseason.

The Thunder have a game and a half lead over the Trail Blazers, and trail the second-place Nuggets by three games.

4. Portland Trail Blazers (37-23)
One team that always is in the mix in the west is the Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers have been in good form recently, going 7-3 in their last 10 games.

As usual, the success of the Blazers correlates directly with the guard play of Portland. Damian Lillard is leading the team in scoring, averaging 25.8 points per game.

CJ McCollum has produced well from the shooting guard position, averaging 21.1 points per game this season. This guard play has the Blazers in fourth in the west with 22 games left to play.

The Blazers have a two-game lead ahead of the fifth-place Rockets, but trail the OKC Thunder by a game and a half.

5. Houston Rockets (35-25)

After a rough start to the 2018-19 season, the Rockets have resurged in the west. James Harden is in the midst of a record season, as the guard is leading the MVP race, averaging a ridiculous 36.3 points per game.

Harden’s scoring has been enough to keep the Rockets in the playoff race, despite injuries keeping Clint Capela and Chris Paul out for a significant amount of time during the season.

The Rockets have been solid at home this season, going 21-9. They will need to obtain at least fourth place in the west if they are to earn a home court matchup in the first round.

The Rockets currently trail Portland in fourth place by two games but hold a game and a half lead over the Jazz for fifth in the NBA playoffs.

6. Utah Jazz (33-26)

With one of the most versatile rosters in the NBA, the Utah Jazz find themselves well within the postseason picture in the west. Utah is giving up the second least points in the west this season, only allowing 106.7 points per game.

Jazz center Rudy Gobert has played a huge part in the defensive success in Utah, and is fourth in the NBA in blocks, blocking 2.17 shots per game. Offensively, second-year guard Donovan Mitchell has followed up his breakout season last year with another high-level campaign this season.

Mitchell is averaging 22.8 points per game and has the Jazz in sixth place in the west, just a half-game ahead of the seventh-place Clippers.

7. LA Clippers (34-28)

The Clippers might be the most overachieving team in the west. In a season where the Clippers are preparing cap space for a big offseason, LA is still finding a way to qualify for the postseason.

After trading away their most productive player in Tobias Harris, the Clippers have had to rely on the veteran play of Luo Williams and Danilo Gallinari.

Both are averaging just over 18+ points per game, and have the Clippers in the running for a spot in the playoffs, as they are leading the 8th place Spurs by a game.

8. San Antonio Spurs (33-29)

The eighth and final playoff spot in the west is currently occupied by the San Antonio Spurs. After replacing Kawhi Leonard with DeMar DeRozan, the Spurs have remained a solid team in the west.

DeRozan is leading the Spurs in scoring, averaging 21.6 points per game. The Spurs are 22-7 at home this season and have been one of the best home teams in the Western Conference.

The Spurs are a very good team representing the eighth seed in the NBA playoffs, but might not stay in that position until the season ends. San Antonio has a game between themselves and the ninth-place Sacramento Kings.

Top Contenders

1. Warriors

With an All-Star caliber level player at each position, the Golden State Warriors are, without a doubt, the top contenders coming out of the Western Conference. The Warriors are leading the league in multiple offensive stats, and have the highest margin of victory in the west (+6.9).

2. Thunder

The Thunder have the firepower to overwhelm any team in the west. OKC is a very strong home team, especially in the postseason. Don’t be surprised if the Thunder find a way to make it out of a wild Western Conference this postseason.

3. Nuggets

Denver finds themselves as legitimate contenders out of the west for the first time in a long time. After keeping pace with the rest of the west all season, Nikola Jokic and company will see no reason as to why the Nuggets can’t compete for a title this season.

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