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The season started with the big three of both the Nets and Lakers being the only two discussed for NBA title contention. Mark Ross previews who has leapfrogged the big market teams to become the new post-season favourites.

Heading into the 2021/2022 NBA season all the attention was on the Brooklyn Nets and the dream team they were building. Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Kevin Durant were all ready to suit up and dominate the Eastern Conference. We now find ourselves in March and Irving has been missing due to his stance on the COVID vaccine and Harden was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in a deal that sent Ben Simmons, Andre Drummond, and Seth Curry in the opposite direction.

Brooklyn started the season as the favourite to not only win the Eastern Conference but also the favourites to win the whole thing. Now, with just five weeks left in the regular season, the Nets find themselves ninth in the Eastern Conference and only two games away from missing out on the playoffs altogether.

Despite their poor run, and the fact that their star point guard, Kyrie Irving, will miss six of their last 17 the Brooklyn Nets (11/4) are still one of the favourites to win the Eastern Conference and advance to the NBA Championship. In their most recent loss to the Boston Celtics, the Nets had Irving, Kevin Durant, and Seth Curry on the court for the first time. This is a luxury that the Nets don’t have as they compete to secure a playoff spot. As mentioned Irving is only available in six matches to end the season. Irving is a huge loss, coupled with the fact Ben Simmons hasn’t played this season leaves the Nets with a lot of work to do.

Who is leading the charge in the East

Well, the team that currently sits top of the East is the Miami Heat (19/4). In the last week, they have gone 3-1 against other teams in the Eastern Conference strengthening their grasp at the top. In doing so, they have climbed into the top five in defensive efficiency for the first time since November. Chasing them down, however, are the Boston Celtics (17/2). The Celtics are fresh off a big win against the Brooklyn Nets and looking to secure their place as an automatic qualifier for the playoffs. Jayson Tatum was dominant in that game as he helped the Celtics to the fourth-ranked offense since the All-Star break. In the last 12 games, in which the Celtics have been healthy, they have outscored their opponents by 28.1 points per 100 possessions. If they can stay healthy they are well worth the 17/2 odds.

Not to be ruled out though are the Philadelphia 76ers. They already had MVP candidate Joel Embiid and have since added James Harden. In the games that Harden has played, they are undefeated. Harden has been extremely efficient in his four games as a 76er and the combination of him and Embiid looks likely to lead the 76ers deep into the playoffs. Philadelphia is sitting at 10/3 to win the Eastern Conference and if Harden, Embiid, and Tyrese Maxey can continue as they have since the All-Star break, the 76ers might just win the whole thing.

Don’t forget the defending champions, the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, and Khris Middleton are all averaging at least 24 points per game and 4.5 assists over their latest four-game winning streak. In recent weeks the Bucks have improved their play in the fourth quarter. Before Wednesday of last week, the Bucks were 2-24 in games where they trailed by five or more points in the fourth quarter. Since then they have improved and started winning closely fought games in the fourth quarter.

Defending a Championship in any sport isn’t easy but especially in Basketball where you are playing almost every night. Milwaukee are 29/10 to win the Eastern Conference and 13/2 to win the whole thing. With the Greek Freak, they are certainly capable of going back to back.

In the West things are a bit more interesting.

Phoenix is running away with the Conference and is destined to be the number one seed. They are eight games ahead of the second-placed Memphis Grizzlies who are in a battle with the Golden State Warriors. After the top-three are settled the next ten teams are all challenging for playoff seeding or the playoffs themselves. Somewhat surprisingly, the Los Angeles Laker find themselves struggling to even make the Play-In Tournament. That being said they still have Lebron James who is still showing that he can get the job done. Given their struggles, you can get them at 20/1 to win the Western Conference and 40/1 to win the Championship. Would you bet against a team that has Lebron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, and Carmelo Anthony?

Despite their recent struggles I struggle to believe that the Lakers will not be there or thereabouts come Western Championships time. If the Lakers are to get back to the Championship Game they need to find a way past the Golden State Warriors, the Nikola Jokic led Denver Nuggets, and the Luka Donic led Dallas Mavericks.

All teams have someone who is either an MVP candidate right now or was at some point this season. Steph Curry was lighting up the league earlier in the season but has cooled down recently. Despite that, he is able to turn a game on it’s head in an instant and could find himself back in the MVP hunt.

Memphis also has Ja Morant who has been on a tear recently. The Grizzlies have an easier schedule to finish the season than the Golden State Warriors but have given up more than 118 points in 100 possessions four times in the last three weeks.  If they are to beat the Warriors to the second spot in the playoffs they need to shore up defensively.

All that being said, the Phoenix Suns are the favourites for the Western Conference at 8/5, but this Conference is a bit of a gauntlet. Los Angeles at 20/1 looks like a great outsider bet. Stars shine when it matters the most, and no team has more stars than the Los Angeles Lakers.

The City of Angels won a Super Bowl this year and at 40/1 are certainly worth a punt to bring back the NBA Championship as well.

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Odds are correct at the time of posting

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