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Bet or Bail: Who lands contender status with Celtics, Nuggets?

Bart Young / National Basketball Association / Getty

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From the In-Season Tournament to the spiritless All-Star Game to teams scratching and clawing for seeding in an ultra-tight playoff race, we've made it to the end of the NBA campaign - and the final edition of Bet or Bail for this season.

We've created a playoff primer before the NBA regular season concludes Sunday. Which teams should you bet on and which teams should you avoid when the postseason begins?

Title odds

Team Odds
Celtics +160
Nuggets +300
Clippers +800
Bucks +1000
Thunder +1600
Suns +2000
Timberwolves +2000
Sixers +2000
Mavs +2500
Lakers +3000
Heat +3500
Cavs +4000
Knicks +4000
Warriors +5000

Eastern Conference

Bet on the Celtics

The Celtics have the fourth-best net rating in NBA history behind the 73-win Warriors and Michael Jordan-led Bulls. Boston's the overwhelming favorite to win the East at -170, which speaks both to how dysfunctional the conference is and how great Boston is.

Even if you're worried about the Celtics' late-game execution, they should coast to the finals in a weak East. I'd stop short of placing a championship future on them at this short price, though.

Bail on the Bucks

Although the Bucks have won two straight, they suffered their biggest loss when Giannis Antetokounmpo injured his calf in Tuesday's win over the Celtics. He avoided serious injury, but is done for the regular season.

His status for the playoffs is undetermined, although it's unlikely he'll be fully healthy whenever he returns.

Even with a healthy Antetokounmpo, the Bucks aren't a formidable contender. Milwaukee lost six of its last seven before the Greek Freak's injury. It has a lackluster defense and no reliable offensive production beyond Giannis and Damian Lillard.

The Bucks are .500 since Doc Rivers took over midseason. Vegas refuses to bail on the Bucks' talent - they have the second-best odds (+525) to win the East. But oddsmakers got it wrong last year, too. Milwaukee could be headed for an early exit for the second straight season.

Bet on the Knicks

"No one wants to play this team in the playoffs" is an adage that's overused and often misused, but it actually applies to the Knicks.

New York's physical defensive style and rebounding prowess are a nightmare, especially in a seven-game series.

Oh, and the Knicks have Jalen Brunson, the NBA's fourth-leading scorer and one of the league's most dynamic players. Last year proved his game translates to the playoffs and that few defensive coverages can limit him despite his small stature.

While Julius Randle's absence creates a hole in secondary creation, his playoff struggles in recent years have been a detriment to New York.

There's only a slight drop in the Knicks' net rating when Randle's on the court compared to the bench. Don't get me wrong, the Knicks are better with Randle, but he's not a catastrophic loss.

Donte DiVincenzo's elevated his offensive role and Josh Hart is a do-it-all workhorse who's become one of the NBA's most versatile defenders. OG Anunoby's health could determine the Knicks' fate. New York is 17-3 with Anunoby and has a plus-22.8 net rating with him on the floor. It sinks to minus-0.1 with him off the floor.

Anunoby played the last three games and finally looks healthy, setting up New York for a serious run.

Western Conference

Bet on the Nuggets

The Nuggets have a better offensive and defensive rating than last year's championship squad. Nikola Jokic is the league's best player, and he and Jamal Murray make up the best two-man combination.

Denver is more than equipped to make another run. Murray's health - he's dealing with a knee issue that caused him to miss two weeks before returning last Saturday on a minutes restriction - is the only factor that could derail back-to-back championships.

The Nuggets should be favored in a Finals showdown against Boston. Their odds are longer now because their path to June is more challenging in a deep West. Still, Denver's the best bet to win the title (+300).

Bet on the Mavs

As I wrote last week, the Mavs are my long shot to win the West (+1200). Luka Doncic is having the best season of his career and has led the Mavs to 16 wins in their last 18 games.

Dallas has the NBA's best clutch offense, but the most impressive part about its last month is that its much-maligned defense has been the NBA's best in the past 15 games.

Lockdown defense and a brilliant late-game offense led by the best player on the court is the perfect formula for a playoff run.

Bail on the Clippers

The Clippers and Mavs will clash in the opening round, and since we're betting on the Mavs, that means we're bailing on the Clippers.

Stop me if you've heard this before: Kawhi Leonard isn't healthy. Heading into April, Leonard had played the most games in a season since 2016-17, but he's missed the last six games due to "knee inflammation" - in his surgically repaired knee.

It's unclear how long Leonard will be out, but he won't be fully healthy when he returns. The Clippers, one of the league's worst defensive teams since the All-Star break, need Leonard at full strength to advance in the playoffs.

L.A. earned a tough draw against the scorching-hot Mavs. If Leonard can't play at an elite level, the Clippers will be forced to rely on Paul George and James Harden, who's as unreliable as a car salesman.

Bail on the Suns

The fourth quarter is the Suns' kryptonite.

Phoenix has the NBA's worst fourth-quarter offense - which is hard to fathom considering its offensive talent - despite having a top-10 overall offense.

It's tought to win playoff games without scoring in the fourth quarter. Phoenix hoped the trio of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal - all of whom are finally healthy - would be enough to prevail against the best in the West.

But I'm not convinced this group can flip a switch after consistent failures all season. Don't be fooled by talent over results. Any West challenger will eclipse the Suns.

Sam Oshtry is a sports betting writer at theScore. You can follow him on X @soshtry for more betting coverage.

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