Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks Battle for #1 Seed in NBA Eastern Conference

Posted on: February 23, 2023, 11:21h. 

Last updated on: February 23, 2023, 11:35h.

The NBA returns from the All-Star break and resumes on Thursday evening with the final quarter of the season. The Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks are in a close fight for the #1 playoff seed, and they represent the top tier of teams in the Eastern Conference.

Jayson Tatum Boston Celtics Milwaukee Bucks Eastern Conference Odds #1 seed
Forward Jayson Tatum from the Boston Celtics celebrates a victory against the Milwaukee Bucks on Christmas at TD Garden in Boston. (Image: USA Today Sports)

The Celtics are the betting favorite at DraftKings at +115 odds to win the Eastern Conference in back-to-back seasons. The Bucks are +220 odds to win the Eastern Conference for the second time in the last three seasons.

Team Eastern Conference Odds
Boston Celtics +115
Milwaukee Bucks +220
Philadelphia 76ers +500
Cleveland Cavs +1100
Miami Heat +2000
Brooklyn Nets +4500
Atlanta Hawks +4500
New York Knicks +5500
Toronto Raptors +7000
Washington Wizards +1800
Chicago Bulls +25000
Indiana Pacers +50000
Orlando Magic +70000
Charlotte Hornets +90000
Detroit Pistons +90000

The Bucks enter the final quarter of the season riding high on a 12-game winning streak. However, their streak is in jeopardy because All-Star big man Giannis “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo could miss multiple games while he recovers from a sprained wrist.

East Tier 1: Celtics, Bucks

The Celtics (42-17) hold a half-game lead over the Bucks (41-17), and both teams represent the first tier or top tier in the Eastern Conference. The #1 playoff seed and home-court advantage are at stake for both squads.

The Celtics might’ve peaked too early, but they’re the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. If you follow the money, the Celtics are the consensus favorite to win the 2022-23 NBA championship at +275 odds. The Celtics lost starting swingman Jaylen Brown to a facial fracture. But he’s expect to return for a final stretch run to help lock up the #1 seed.

Antetokounmpo avoided a serious injury to his right wrist one week ago in the last game before the All-Star break. He did not have any torn ligaments, but the Bucks do not want to rush Antetokounmpo back into to the lineup. They’d rather miss out on the #1 seed if that ensured they had a healthy Antetokounmpo for the postseason.

The Celtics knocked the Bucks out of the playoffs last postseason during an exhilarating, seven-game series in the Eastern Conference semifinals. If the current standings hold steady, the Celtics would lock up the #1 seed, and the Bucks would get the #2 seed. The top-tiered teams could have a potential showdown in the conference finals.

East Tier 2: 76ers, Cavs

The second tier of teams in the Eastern Conference are championship contenders who are trying to secure home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. That includes the Philadelphia 76ers (38-19) and Cleveland Cavs (38-23).

The 76ers were playing their best ball of the season before the All-Star break, with an 18-5 stretch since New Year’s Eve. The 76ers are in third place in the conference, and matching preseason expectations as one of the top three teams in the east. They’re in the middle of a four-game winning streak, but they face the toughest schedule in the final 25 games of the season. Their opponents have a combined winning percentage of .540.

Do not overlook the Cavs in the Eastern Conference race. The Cavs are a young squad, but could be a tough matchup in the postseason if Donovan Mitchell gets hot in the playoffs. Mitchell leads the Cavs in scoring by averaging 27.3 points per game and shooting a career-high 38.7% from 3-point range. The Cavs are the best value pick on the board at +1100 odds to win the Eastern Conference.

East Tier 3: Nets, Knicks, Heat

The third tier of teams in the Eastern Conference are fighting to maintain their current spot in the playoff standings. The Brooklyn Nets (34-24), New York Knicks (33-27), and Miami Heat (32-27) are doing everything possible to move up in the standings and avoid the Play-In Tournament.

The Nets are in fifth place, and banked enough wins before they traded guard Kyrie Irving and forward Kevin Durant to the Western Conference. The Nets could play the role of usurper in the first round, as a ragtag batch of misfits that no one wanted. But they’re still a long shot to win the conference at +4500 odds.

The sixth-place Knicks added wing depth off the bench with the acquisition of swingman Josh Hart at the trade deadline. Point guard Jalen Brunson has been the MVP of the Knicks, but they’re still a  flawed team. The Knicks are ripe for a first-round bust out, which is why they’re only +5500 odds to win the conference.

The banged-up Heat pushed the Celtics to the brink of elimination in a seven-game series in the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals. Alas, the Heat were one missed 3-pointer away from winning the conference title last year, thanks to the never-say-die tenacity of Jimmy Butler. When you have Butler on your squad, you always have a shot to make a deep playoff run. The Heat are +2000 odds to win the Eastern Conference, even though they’re in seventh place and could be headed to the Play-In Tournament.

East Tier 4: Hawks, Wizards, Raptors, Bulls, Pacers

The fourth tier includes teams with a losing record who are on the playoff bubble and fighting for a spot in the Eastern Conference Play-In Tournament. These underachievers were huge disappointments this season. The Atlanta Hawks (29-30), Chicago Bulls (26-33), and Toronto Raptors (28-31) should’ve been third-tier, or even second-tier teams.

The Bulls are in eleventh place because they have numerous internal problems that they didn’t address at the trade deadline. However, they acquired veteran point guard Patrick Beverly through a contract buyout in hopes he can add stability to their fractured locker room.

The Hawks have been a hot mess this year because of an ongoing riff between superstar guard Trae Young and the coaching staff. They had huge expectations after adding combo guard Dejounte Murray in an off-season trade. Yet the eighth-place Hawks are in a precarious spot on the playoff bubble.

The Hawks fired head coach Nate McMillan during the All-Star break, hoping that a regime change could inspire the Hawks to make a late-season push.

East Tier 5: Magic, Hornets, Pistons

The fifth and last tier of teams in the east have zero shot at the playoffs. But all three squads have their eyes on winning the 2023 NBA Draft Lottery.

The Orlando Magic (24-35) are stocked with young players, and next season they should finally take a step forward. Duke’s Paolo Banchero, the #1 pick from the 2022 NBA Draft, looks like he’s going to win the NBA Rookie of the Year. He’s been one of the few highlights during a tough transition season.

The Charlotte Hornets (17-43) were plagued with injuries to multiple starters this season. Instead of being a third-tier team, the Hornets are slugging it out in the basement for a chance at hitting the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes in the upcoming NBA draft.

The Detroit Pistons (15-44) are another downtrodden franchise that’s loaded with young players, yet they have the worst record in the Eastern Conference this season. If the Pistons can remain among the worst three teams in the NBA this season, they’ll have a 14% chance to secure the draft rights to the French international sensation Victor Wembanyama.

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