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Best Bet for 2021 Eastern Conference Champion: Nets, Celtics, 76ers?

by November 4, 2020

This time last year, the NBA was already a full-month underway, and due to COVID-19, Adam Silver is looking to bring back the league around Christmas 2020. Wouldn’t that be a nice stocking-stuffer? Presents at 8 a.m. and basketball at noon? That would be the life.

Silver’s target is December 22, and if that does happen, you have less than 60 days to lock in your NBA futures bets. I’ve already recapped my favorite MVP bets and 2020-21 Champion favorites, including Luka Doncic, Kevin Durant, the Los Angeles Lakers, and more. In this article, we’ll examine my three favorite picks to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals this upcoming season.

You can see odds here at BettingPros odds consensus, and across most sportsbooks, the Milwaukee Bucks are the favorites to win the East for the third-straight year. Sorry if you’re a Bucks fan, but they didn’t quite make the cut for me after their postseason performance versus the eventual Eastern Conference Champions, the Miami Heat.

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Brooklyn Nets (+400)

The Nets hold the second-best odds to win the East thanks to the long-awaited return of Kevin Durant. The last time we saw Durant, he went down with an Achilles injury versus Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors in the NBA Finals for the Warriors. Durant paired with Kyrie Irving is going to be a historic season. We saw Irving for 21 games in a Nets’ jersey, and the whole world wanted more; now add Durant to that equation, and we’re cooking in Brooklyn.

Irving dealt with his fair of injuries, but let’s be honest, he was never going to play a full-season with Durant out for the year. This entire Nets team had their eyes on 2020-21, and it’s almost here. Brooklyn hired Steve Nash to be the head coach, and we can expect an offense that revolves around quick shooting, pick and rolls, and lots of three-pointers. Precisely what this roster is built for.

The Nets return key role players Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Taurean Prince, and big men DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen. Brooklyn’s loaded with an eight-man rotation in the playoffs with Durant and Irving in the mix. It’ll be more about health this season for Durant and Irving to achieve the success we know this roster is capable of.

An interesting trend the Nets have going for them is their coaching change. Over the last six years, five coaches made it to the NBA Finals in their first or second year as a new coach. Ty Lue (CLE), Steve Kerr (GSW), Nick Nurse (TOR), and Frank Vogel (LAL) all won, while David Blatt (CLE) was the lone loser, falling to Kerr’s Warriors. I’d expect an NBA Finals appearance from the Nets within the next two years.

In an anticipated 72-game season, the Nets have an advantage with Durant and Irving being fresh, where most players/teams were in action fewer than 60 days ago after taking three months off. Once the Nets gain a rhythm, the sky is the limit for this bunch.

Boston Celtics (+500)

There wasn’t a team I was rooting harder for in the East to make the Finals than the Celtics. That could be because they’re the team I bet on prior and post COVID to make the Finals, but with a weird year under their belt, 2020-21 presents another excellent opportunity for Boston.

A core trio of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker lived up to the hype as they reeled the Celtics to the ECF. Not many people saw the Miami Heat coming on like that, but Boston will be out for revenge. Boston holds the third-best odds (+500) to make the Finals, just ahead of Miami (+550) and Toronto (+1000). I take Boston over those two for a couple of crucial reasons.

Boston finished second in points allowed per game (107.3) and permitted the second-fewest assists (22.4). They clamped down on most of their opponents while holding the third-best plus-minus overall (-6.3), trailing only the Bucks and Clippers. They ranked fifth in blocks (5.6), sixth in steals (8.3), and eighth in turnovers forced (13.8). On offense, they weren’t the same team, failing to rank top 10 in field goal percentage (17th), field goal attempts (11th), three-point attempts (13th), three-point percentage (13th), and free-throw attempts (18th).

My main problem with Boston, which might be viewed as a positive to some, is they finished third in three-pointers made per game unassisted (29.3%) and 18th in two-pointers (49.1%). The only teams that finished ahead of them from deep were Portland and Houston. There are far too many possessions that become a one-person show between their trio and Marcus Smart.

The Celtics finished 25th in assists per game (23.0) while Portland and Houston finished bottom two in the league. That shouldn’t be the brand of basketball Boston puts together next year, and with a postseason together, we should see far much more ball movement in season two with Kemba. They have an array of younger players looking to extend their minutes, such as Brad Wanamaker, Grant Williams, Carson Edwards, and Tacko Fall.

The Celtics are an exciting and young unit with tons of potential. Led by a future MVP hopeful in Jayson Tatum, I’ll back the Celtics as my second-favorite bet to take the Eastern Conference in 2021 after losing in six games to the Heat.

Philadelphia 76ers (+1200)

Sleeper alert here. The 76ers finally made the right decision and fired Brett Brown. Like the Nets, they fall into the hot trend the NBA has witnessed with new coaches coming in and taking already “built” or “contending” teams to the next level. For the 76ers, the next level for them is the Finals after being losing to the Toronto Raptors in 2019. 

Their new head coaching change did come with a bit of shock as not many experts expected Doc Rivers to lose his job. This move could be just what the 76ers need to get back on track and fix this oddly organized roster. It’s not news that Ben Simmons doesn’t want to take the necessary steps to become a shooter or a more aggressive scorer for that matter, but paired with Joel Embiid, the offense doesn’t flow.

Philadelphia lost most of their perimeter shooters after 2019, and it was one of their main problems in 2020. Heading into 2020-21, outside of Embiid, Simmons, and Tobias Harris, the 76ers will rely on Furkan Korkmaz, Alec Burks, Josh Richardson, Glenn Robinson III, Shake Milton, and Matisse Thybulle for offensive production.

There’s no telling what Philly will do with Al Horford and whether or not Harris will be a longtime 76er. There has been trade speculation surrounding Simmons for the last two seasons, and with Doc Rivers as the coach, you can expect a shakeup on the roster. I think Embiid will have his best season yet with Rivers, and he can find ways to utilize the big man and limited his wasted shot attempts, especially from three.

The 76ers are a longshot in 2021 to win the Eastern Conference, but this will be the best value of the season for them. They went an NBA-best 31-4 at home this past season but held one of the worst road records in the league at 12-26. Rivers and his 2019-20 Clippers team finished 22-14 on the road, the second-most road wins in the Western Conference. 

If Rivers can make a few roster moves for some additional shooters and keep Embiid/Simmons stay healthy, the 76ers should be in contention for the Eastern Conference Finals.

Best Bet for 2021 Western Conference Champion

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Vaughn Dalzell is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Vaughn, check out his archive or follow him @VaughnDalzell.