BY FLINT WHEELER
With the NBA regular season drawing to a close, the race for the final eight playoff spots in both the Eastern and Western conferences is as close as it’s been in quite some time. NBA teams only have a few days left to secure their playoff positioning. The Raptors, Celtics, Cavs, Rockets and Warriors have already earned playoff berths, but which teams will join them? When it comes to championship futures, Tilted Sports Media is expecting a wide-open postseason.
Current future books have the playoff odds at Golden State Warrior are the -110 favorites, with the Houston Rockets (+130), Cleveland Cavaliers (+600), Toronto Raptors (+750), Boston Celtics (+1500), Oklahoma City Thunder (+2500), Portland Trail Blazers (+2500), San Antonio Spurs (+4000), Philadelphia 76ers (+4000), Indiana Pacers (+5000), Washington Wizards (+5000), Utah Jazz (+5800), Minnesota Timberwolves (+6500), New Orleans Pelicans (+6500), Milwaukee Bucks (+6500), Miami Heat (+8000),
The Warriors have been the front-runners to win the championship after hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy last June, but their current odds are the worst they’ve been all year. That’s because the Warriors (54-20 as of March 28) have been hit hard by the injury bug and are going to fall well short of reaching their projected season win total. Golden State is locked into the No. 2 spot in the West thanks to the ridiculously hot play of the Rockets (61-14) and MVP finalist Harden.
While the battle to represent the West in the NBA Finals looks like it’s going to come down to the Warriors and Rockets, the East is up for grabs right now. It’s been a rocky season in Cleveland, to say the least, but LeBron James and company are rounding into form at the right time despite sitting in third place as of this writing.
The Raptors, who’ve all but locked up the No. 1 seed, are clearly being respected by sportsbooks as a result of their +750 odds to win the title. That’s well ahead of the Celtics, who are dealing with health issues of their own right now, headlined by the season-ending knee injury to star point guard Kyrie Irving.
Eastern Conference playoff picture
The 76ers, Pacers, Bucks and Wizards have essentially secured their tickets to the postseason. Based on simulations, these teams have 98-99 percent chances to reach the playoffs. It would require gigantic meltdowns for these teams to miss the playoffs this year.
The only interesting discussion involves the last position in the Eastern Conference. The Heat are expected to land at No. 8 in the East, as Miami is currently seven games ahead of the Pistons. Miami’s probability to reach the playoffs is 84 percent, while the Pistons have a 16 percent chance to pass the Heat and get into the postseason party.
It is also worth taking a look at the division battles, which are completely open. Currently, the Raptors (54 percent win probability in Atlantic) and Wizards (86 percent win probability in Southeast) are leading their respective divisions. Expect the Cavs to take over by the end of the regular season in the Central, as their division win probability is 61 percent.
Western Conference playoff picture
In addition to the Rockets and Warriors, it looks like the Timberwolves and Trail Blazers have the best odds to make the playoffs in the Western Conference. Portland had won 13 games in a row before a loss to the Rockets, and that streak improved the team’s chances quite a bit. The Thunder also look secure with almost 94 percent probability to get into the playoffs despite the fact that Oklahoma City is only up 2.5 games in the standings on the final West playoff team.
The Spurs find themselves in unfamiliar territory near the bottom of the playoff picture, but the simulations like their chances and predict San Antonio will make the final playoff field (over 92 percent probability). Things don’t look so good for the Clippers, who have only a 34 percent probability to make the playoffs behind the Jazz (76 percent) and Pelicans (86 percent).
The Rockets and Warriors have already clinched their respective divisions without breaking a sweat. The Northwest Division, though, will be a tight race. The Thunder have an outside shot, but their chances are below 10 percent. It will most likely come down to the Timberwolves (63 percent) and the Trail Blazers (27 percent) for the division crown, according to the simulations