By Nick Grunewald, WC Sports Editor
MACOMB, Illinois (Western Courier) – As the 2023 NBA season is just hours away from tipping off, we’re presented with a season that has as much drama leading into it as any year in recent memory. Can Denver repeat? Do Steph Curry and LeBron James have one last title run in them? Can anyone in the East take down Boston or Milwaukee as the top? Where will James Harden play out this season?
Denver hosts the Lakers followed by the new look Suns taking on the Golden State Warriors in a TNT double header to open the season Tuesday.
It’s prediction time. Here are the odds for who wins the Eastern and Western conference as well as odds to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy come June. All odds are via DraftKings Sportsbook.
Eastern Conference odds
Boston Celtics (+180), Milwaukee Bucks (+180), Philadelphia 76ers (+750), Cleveland Cavaliers (+1000), Miami Heat (+1100), New York Knicks (+1800), Atlanta Hawks (+2500), Brooklyn Nets (+5000), Toronto Raptors (+6000), Chicago Bulls (+7500), Orlando Magic (+13000), Indiana Pacers (+13000), Charlotte Hornets (+25000), Detroit Pistons (+30000), Washington Wizards (+50000)
Boston Celtics guard Jrue Holiday (Photo by Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports)
Eastern Conference predictions
- Boston Celtics
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Miami Heat
- New York Knicks
(Play-in tournament teams)
8. Indiana Pacers
9. Brooklyn Nets
10. Toronto Raptors
Boston and Milwaukee are top dogs in the East following an active offseason. Milwaukee made a splash by bringing in Damiam Lillard to pair alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo, creating one of the most dynamic pairings in the league nicknamed “Freak Time.” The Bucks moved Jrue Holiday to Portland to acquire Lillard, but the Blazers flipped that asset to Boston for more picks. Holiday finds himself paired alongside Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kristaps Porzingis who was acquired from Washington earlier in the offseason. Philadelphia will be good with or without James Harden as Joel Embiid is coming off an MVP season and Tyrese Maxey will continue to take a leap in his game seeing more touches with James Harden gone, the question is whether that will be enough to keep Embiid in town long term. Evan Mobley continues to grow into one of the league’s most elite defenders and the pairing alongside Jarret Allen will make Cleveland one of the best defensive teams in the league yet again. Miami just finds ways to win games and Pat Riley is sure to be active prior to the trade deadline to beef up the roster. Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle are good enough to have the Knicks in the mix but I don’t see a leap forward from the rest of the team.
Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
Starting out the play-in tournament we have Trae Young and Quin Snyder who should be exciting to watch this year for the Hawks but I still need to see more from the rest of the team as a whole. Indiana could be a huge surprise team so having them in the play-in tournament feels a bit low, their offense is as explosive as any in the league with Tyrese Haliburton on the floor and the addition of Bruce Brown could prove huge. Mikal Bridges took the league by storm following his midseason trade from Phoenix – 26.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG in 27 games – but the question is can he do that for an entire season and still maintain his elite status as a perimeter defender? Toronto finishes with the final play-in spot but expect Chicago to make some noise barring a major shakeup at the trade deadline in the Windy City.
Eastern Conference Finals prediction: Boston over Milwaukee
Western Conference Odds
Denver Nuggets (+260), Phoenix Suns (+350), LA Lakers (+650), Golden State Warriors (+650), LA Clippers (+1000), Dallas Mavericks (+1200), Memphis Grizzlies (+1400), Sacramento Kings (+2500), New Orleans Pelicans (+2500), Minnesota Timberwolves (+3000), OKC Thunder (+4500), Utah Jazz (+20000), Houston Rockets (+20000), San Antonio Spurs (25000), Portland Trail Blazers (+25000)
The Denver Nuggets celebrate after beating the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)
Western Conference prediction
- Denver Nuggets
- Phoenix Suns
- Golden State Warriors
- LA Lakers
- Memphis Grizzlies
- Sacramento Kings
(Play-in tournament teams)
7. Minnesota Timberwolves
8. LA Clippers
9. Oklahoma City Thunder
10. New Orleans Pelicans
The defending NBA Champions Nuggets and top-heavy Suns will finish 1-2 in the west. After that it’s a wide open conference with 8-10 teams jockeying for position. It’ll be an extremely tight race in the west meaning injuries or even a short period of poor play could decide who’s sitting in the top six and who’ll find themselves in a play-in game or two.
The addition of Chris Paul will help the Steph-less minutes for the Warriors– something that hindered Golden State a year ago – and open up more opportunities for Curry to play off ball in a true scoring role. The Lakers are deeper than a year ago and building off the top-5 defensive finish they had post All-Star break, they should find themselves back inside the top six. Memphis has won 50 games each of the last two seasons but the absence of Ja Morant for the first 25 games and losing Steven Adams for the season will be a blow to this Grizzlies group. Sacramento took the league by storm a year ago finishing with the most efficient offense in NBA history. I’d expect that to taper off a bit and that combined with their lackluster defense will bring them back down to earth this year.
Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwars (Steven Senne/Associated Press)
Minnesota is set to make another leap with Anthony Edwards coming off an impressive summer leading Team USA in the FIBA World Cup – 18.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.8 APG through eight games. The Clippers should finish higher than eighth if they take the regular season seriously and Kawhi Leonard stays healthy, but it’s hard to bet on that. Oklahoma City is on the rise lead by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Chet Holmgren making his debut, they’ll be a team to keep an eye on all season. New Orleans is an elite team when Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson are both healthy, their only concern has been them actually getting on the court together.
Dallas has one of the most lethal backcourts the league has ever seen with Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving which will certainly put them in contention for one of the final play-in spots, but to rely on Irving to not blow things up at this point seems irresponsible to me.
Western Conference Finals prediction: Warriors over Suns
2024 NBA Finals Odds
Milwaukee Bucks (+400), Boston Celtics (+400), Denver Nuggets (+550), Phoenix Suns (+650), Los Angeles Lakers (+1200), Golden State Warriors (+1300), Philadelphia 76ers (+1800)
NBA Finals prediction: Celtics over Warriors (4-2)
Picking between Boston and Milwaukee to come out of the East is a matter of personal choice. Do you prefer the league’s best duo in Giannis and Lillard; or the league’s most balanced team with Tatum, Brown, Holiday, Porzingis, Derrick White and the rest of the C’s. I’m going with the more balanced team in Boston, but we can all agree that this is a must see matchup to determine who represents the East.
The top-end talent of the Suns is not in question as Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal create one of the most dangerous trios in league history; instead it’s the defense and depth that is keeping me from taking the Valley to win it all. Instead I’ll go with the Golden State Warriors to navigate their way through a tough Western conference and put together their own version of “The Last Dance” as rumors swirl Klay Thompson could be on his way out of the Bay Area next offseason.
In a rematch of the 2022 NBA Finals it’s the Celtics coming out on top this time around capturing their 18th banner – tying the Lakers for the most in NBA history.