The 2020-2021 NBA season is just about two weeks away, and the preseason will be underway in much less time than that. It’s only been a few months since the 2019-2020 season concluded, but a lot has changed since the Lakers knocked off the Heat in the NBA Finals in October. Below you’ll find a comprehensive preview of the Eastern Conference for the upcoming year, in terms of the betting lines and odds changes, and you can click here to see the Western Conference version as well.
The top two NBA Championship favorites are in the Western Conference (and in Los Angeles), but the next handful of teams in contention are from the East. Even after a disappointing second round loss to the Miami Heat last year, the Milwaukee Bucks remain the odds-on favorites to win the Eastern Conference. The Bucks were the clear betting favorites in the East for all of last season — so they surely would have been among the favorites again without making any moves — but they also managed to make some substantial improvements. The big splash for the Bucks this offseason was acquiring Jrue Holiday from the Pelicans in exchange for Eric Bledsoe. That trade, along with some lower-level signings, should make them well-positioned to win the conference this year.
Brooklyn Nets: +800 to +600
Boston Celtics: +1200 to +1300
The Eastern Conference hasn’t had nearly as tumultuous of an offseason as the West, with only a couple of teams having meaningful shifts to their championship odds. The most significant improvement at the top seems to be the Brooklyn Nets, who will be vastly improved from last season simply by getting healthier. There are likely to be some limitations on Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant throughout the year, but in terms of championship potential, the Nets are clearly one of the best. Most of the free agent and trade movement also came from the West, so with a few exceptions, the teams around the Nets generally didn’t really get a whole lot better.
The team near the top of the East who most clearly appears to be moving backwards is the Boston Celtics, who lost a key asset in Gordon Hayward when he signed with the Charlotte Hornets. The Celtics made a deep playoff run largely without Hayward last season, and they did add some depth in Tristan Thompson and Jeff Teague for 2020-21, but Hayward is a much better player than either of those acquisitions — there’s a reason he’s making $30 million per year now. On top of that, the Celtics will also be playing a chunk of this season without Kemba Walker, who will miss the beginning of 2020-21 with a knee injury. The Celtics are very likely going to make the playoffs even without Hayward and Walker, but this still figures to make things a lot tougher in the upcoming season — especially if Walker struggles to return to full strength.
Eastern Conference betting is almost entirely falling on just two teams to this point, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets, as mentioned above, are a sensibly popular choice this year given their star power, and it’s actually been a long time coming since Irving and Durant were on the roster last year and were rumored to have a chance to play at some point in the playoffs before they were ultimately ruled out. So even though the Nets’ stars were injured last year, there’s been plenty of time for the hype to build and that probably is a big reason why they’re such a popular bet this year.
As for the Sixers, they’re easily one of the most talented teams in the NBA and just couldn’t get things to click last year, but this year’s roster seems more promising. They probably would have been a popular Eastern Conference bet, regardless — but adding shooters like Seth Curry and Danny Green make this Sixers team, which struggled in from beyond the arc in 2019-2020, more well-rounded. The odds for Philly are also relatively long compared to some of the other Eastern Conference contenders, too, so the price alone makes them pretty appealing regardless.
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