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Four Best Bets on Teams Currently Contending For Final NBA Playoff Spots

Damian Lillard at center court
Damian Lillard and the Blazers are seeing their season go under fast. Photo from FrenchieinPortland (Wiki Commons).
  • The New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trail Blazers could make late-season push in the West 
  • Chicago Bulls have the talent to sneak in if they can right the ship 

As we head into the second half of the regular season, the bottom two playoff spots are open in each conference. The Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets are the current occupants of the seven and eight seeds in the Eastern Conference, while the overachieving duo of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies are occupying those spots in the West.

It’s a fierce competition for those seven and eight seeds, as shown in the NBA Playoffs odds. Some teams are looking to break the end to a long post-season drought, others are hoping to extend a streak. There’s a mix of experience and youth and some superstar talent involved.

Starting with two teams from the West, here are four teams that present good value to make it into the postseason come April.

Western Conference Playoff Odds

Team Odds to Make Playoffs Odds to Miss Playoffs
Golden State Warriors +2000 -5000
Memphis Grizzlies +165 -190
Minnesota Timberwolves +700 -1000
New Orleans Pelicans +425 -550
Oklahoma City Thunder -300 +250
Phoenix Suns +250 -300
Portland Trail Blazers +290 -300
Sacramento Kings +700 -1000
San Antonio Spurs +290 -350

Odds taken Jan. 20th

New Orleans Pelicans

Five games back in the loss column from the Grizzlies, the Pelicans’ have a lot of work to do. Their schedule, however, is the third-easiest in the league over the remaining few months per Tankathon, with six games against the Warriors, Knicks, Hawks and Cavaliers.

Zion Williamson’s return will put the Pels in the spotlight – if he fits into this team quickly, they are well set to go on a run.

New Orleans are 10-5 over their last 15 games. After being one of the worst defensive teams in the league, they have improved on that side of the ball to rank 14th in defensive rating over the last 15 games, putting them higher than elite teams like the Clippers.

It isn’t just about Williamson’s health for the Pelicans. Derrick Favors, J.J Redick and Jrue Holiday are all questionable for Monday evenings’s game. The mix of that veteran trio with Most Improved candidate Brandon Ingram and Williamson could see them make a real push, but getting all of their key players on the floor could be a big ask.

FiveThirtyEight’s projections love the Pels’ chances, putting them at 53% to snatch a playoff spot. With the talent on their roster, and a more than favorable schedule, they look a good price at +425. Redick and Holiday trade rumors will likely pop up before the deadline, but it seems unlikely they’ll get dealt unless they fall into a losing streak.

Portland Trail Blazers

The Blazers, in Damian Lillard, have the best player in this group of teams. Portland are 9-10 at home compared to 9-16 on the road – they play 22 of their remaining 38 games at Moda Center. With Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Carmelo Anthony and Jusuf Nurkic returning soon, they have experience aplenty. In each of the last three seasons, Portland have gone on a great run towards the end of the regular season.

There’s a lot going for them, and of the teams not currently in the playoff spots, they are second-most favored behind the Pelicans by FiveThirtyEight. There are plenty of tough games along the way, however – the three against Memphis, two against New Orleans and February 6th meeting with San Antonio will be especially crucial.

A lot will depend on how Nurkic looks when he returns. Portland will continue to be linked with trades – Kevin Love rumors never seem to stop – but their deal with the Kings suggested their moves are going to be more about dodging the luxury tax than improving the roster.

Veteran leadership and the talent of Lillard and McCollum makes Portland worth considering at +290.

Eastern Conference Playoff Odds

Team Odds to Make Playoffs Odds to Miss Playoffs
Atlanta Hawks +1600 -3000
Brooklyn Nets -200 +170
Charlotte Hornets +1000 -1500
Chicago Bulls +500 -650
Cleveland Cavaliers +1000 -1500
Detroit Pistons +425 -550
New York Knicks +1600 -3300
Orlando Magic -300 +250
Washington Wizards +1000 -1500

Odds taken Jan. 20th

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets are sitting in the eighth seed at the moment, four ahead of the Pistons in the loss column. Kyrie Irving’s recent return from injury has seen the team hit the headlines, though they are on a three-game losing streak.

This was always going to be a transition year as Brooklyn wait for Kevin Durant to return. Missing out on the playoffs would be still be a major disappointment, particularly considering they played .500 ball with Irving sidelined. Despite Irving’s suggestions that they need more to win, it would be a shock to see the Nets involved in any notable deals before the trade deadline.

Their schedule is relatively favorable, and they’ve already got a good cushion. The -200 to make the playoffs looks a decent bet right now, even if there are locker room issues. Brooklyn’s roster is deep, there’s plenty of talent there, and they’re top ten in defensive rating since the turn of the year. Poor three-point shooting will likely improve from their current 33.1%.

Developing for next year is the important thing for Brooklyn right now, but making the playoffs this year will still be a priority for them. Whatever Irving ends up saying to the media, this team is good enough to hold onto a playoff place.

Chicago Bulls

Five losses behind the Brooklyn Nets, the Chicago Bulls are no more than a longshot to make the playoffs. With a turnover-forcing defense and some winnable games down the stretch, the Bulls shouldn’t be written off just yet, however.

Their +500 price is one to keep an eye on, despite 17 of their remaining games coming against teams in the top six playoff spots.

Crucially, Chicago have opportunity to make ground. They play the two teams they’re looking to catch – Brooklyn and Orlando – twice each, and have four against the Wizards and Knicks.

Only James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and Devin Booker are scoring more points per game in 2020 than Zach LaVine. LaVine has built a compelling case to be an All-Star, and with Wendell Carter and Otto Porter set to return in the next few weeks, the Bulls will soon have their core together to make a late-season run at the post-season while other teams begin to cruise.

Getting Lauri Markkanen, who has disappointed this year, going and bringing Carter and Porter back, could see the Bulls put pressure on Brooklyn and Orlando. The post-All-Star break homestand against the Hornets, Suns, Wizards and Thunder could be a turning point.

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