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Last Updated Oct 13, 2021, 2:00 PM

2021 Eastern Conference Predictions & Best Bets

Oct. 13, 2021
by Michael Crosson
NBA Expert

Before the start of last season, Milwaukee pushed all its chips towards the center of the table by acquiring All-Star Jrue Holiday from the Pelicans in a massive four-team deal – and it worked out seamlessly, as the Bucks ended up claiming their first NBA title since 1971.

Prior to winning last year’s title though, some may remember Milwaukee’s wild matchup against Brooklyn in the conference semis’, as the Bucks quickly fell behind 0-2 – and then Kyrie Irving sprained his ankle, which quickly changed the tides within that series.

The Bucks (-125), Nets (+425), and Sixers (+750) are currently the only teams receiving a reasonable amount of respect from the books to win the East this year – as the Heat (+1200), Hawks (+1600), Celtics (+2000), and Bulls (+3000) are all considerably distant longshots to reach the Finals.

Personally, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which a team other than the Bucks, Nets, or maybe the Sixers ends up representing the East in this year’s Finals – but that’s contingent on the dramatic skew in talent across the conference remaining in place.

For example, if Philadelphia offloads Ben Simmons in exchange for draft capital, that would likely eliminate the Sixers from championship contention in the immediate future – and Philly’s title odds would probably take a serious hit.

Teams like the Hawks, Heat, and Celtics are all just a trade or two away from seeing their odds climb alongside the top eastern contenders though – so, for those hoping hit big with a longshot future play, your best option is probably to jumping on a middle-tier squad if the blockbuster trade market heats up at some point during the season.

2021-22 Western Conference Predictions & Best Bets

Conference Winner Best Bet

Despite the Bucks’ impressive championship campaign, the oddsmakers are still electing to favorite Brooklyn over Milwaukee to win this year’s Eastern Conference – and it’s tough to blame them, as the Nets are probably the stand-alone best team in the whole league when fully healthy.

Brooklyn was rarely healthy last season though, as the Nets’ trio of superstars only played a handful of games together before entering the playoffs – and then lost to Milwaukee in the second round while Irving was sidelined with an ankle sprain.

The Nets are still a high-quality team with one superstar missing, as we saw throughout the entire regular season – but they couldn’t quite match the Bucks’ firepower in the conference semis’. When it comes to beating teams like Milwaukee, Brooklyn clearly needs all three superstars present – and it’s nearly impossible to place faith in that happening with all the preseason chaos that currently surrounds the Nets.

Eastern Conference Odds - Top 8 Teams

Per BetMGM - Subject to Change

  • Brooklyn Nets -125
  • Milwaukee Bucks +425
  • Philadelphia 76ers +750
  • Miami Heat +1200
  • Atlanta Hawks +1600
  • Boston Celtics +2000
  • Chicago Bulls +3000
  • N.Y. Knicks +4000

The Brooklyn Nets enter the 2021-22 NBA season as the favorites to win the Eastern Conference at -125 with BetMGM. (AP)

Best Win Total

After finishing fourth in the East with a record of 41-31 last season, New York’s win-total is stationed directly above that identical mark – as most books are taking bets on whether this young Knicks’ squad is going to improve last year’s tally by just one game.

Nobody expected much from New York heading into last year, as the Knicks wrapped up their previous campaign with an underwhelming record of 21-45 – and didn’t make any groundbreaking offseason moves other than acquiring Sixth Man of the Year candidate Derrick Rose.

New York has visibly improved over the last few seasons, but last year seemed a little too good to be true, as the Knicks miraculously mounted a late nine-game winning streak – and ended up closing out the regular season with victories in 16-of-20 games.

The Knicks are still an excellent young squad that comfortably deserves inclusion in postseason conversations – but asking them to win 40+ games again and compete for a 3-5 seed like they did last year, seems like a tall task.

To Make Playoffs Best Bet

After finishing 11th in the conference with a record of 31-41 last year, the Bulls went out and made some significant moves during the offseason – as Zach LaVine now finds himself partnered up with a new supporting cast consisting of Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, Alex Caruso and others.

The new-look Bulls probably won’t end up serving as a legitimate threat to upper-tier squads like the Bucks and Nets – but placing them in the 5-7 category alongside teams like the Knicks, Celtics, and Pacers seems fair to me, which should comfortably land them in the playoff picture.

MVP Best Bet

After suffering a handful of devastating injuries throughout his career, Joel Embiid finally mustered together a semi-complete season for the Sixers last year – and the results were outstanding, as the Process landed second on the MVP ballot by posting averages of 28.5 PPG, 10.6 REB, and 2.6 AST across 51 games last season.

The Sixers are a total mess, and there’s no telling what Darryl Morey potentially has in store for that organization – but if there’s one reliable thing about Philadelphia, it’s the steady production of Embiid when he’s healthy, and I expect the big man to win an MVP before he exits his prime.

Joel Embiid looks to stay healthy this season and win his first NBA MVP Award with odds to do so at +700 with BetMGM. (AP)

Coach of the Year Best Bet

Coach of the Year predictions are always a total shot in the dark – so, sprinkling some change on a few longshots on contenders in this category typically doesn’t hurt.

After earning a top-two seed in the East for three straight years, Toronto completely fell apart over the course of last season – as the Raptors yielded a remarkably disappointing 27-45 record, which inevitably led to the dealing of Kyle Lowry.

The Raptors didn’t exactly receive chump-change in return though, as Toronto acquired a veteran guard replacement in Goran Dragic and a new young prospect in Precious Achiuwa in the deal – which should allow them to stay afloat for the time being.

It’s tough to predict what will eventually serve as the clear-cut determining factor in selecting the top candidates for this award – but based on last year’s results, if Nick Nurse can thrust Toronto into playoff contention after losing 45 games last year – there’s a good chance he’ll wind up on the ballot at an intriguing price.

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