Tuesday, an NBA season tips-off with more drama and questions than we have seen in a long time: Can Denver repeat? Can any team in the East challenge Boston and Milwaukee? Does LeBron James or Stephen Curry have one last title run in them? Where will James Harden be playing by February… or will he be playing anywhere? All that is just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s time for some predictions. Here are the odds for who wins the West, East and NBA title, as well as my predictions for who makes the postseason and lifts the Larry O’Brien Trophy next June. All odds come from our partners at Draft Kings.
Western Conference odds, predictions
The defending champion Nuggets and the top-heavy Suns are deep with talent and will finish 1-2 in the West. Even fans and analysts not high on the Suns’ title chances know they are built to win a lot of regular season games and they could land the top seed. After those two, it’s wide open — 3-12 in the West could go in almost any order, meaning that teams such as the Mavericks, Pelicans, Thunder and Jazz could be in the mix. It will be incredibly tight in the West and injuries or just a two-week slump could decide who is in the top six and who is in the play-in.
Chris Paul will shore up the non-Stephen Curry minutes to lift Golden State, and the Lakers are deeper than last season and will make the top six. Memphis has won 50+ the previous two seasons, but no Ja Morant for the first 25 games and no Steven Adams all season is a blow. The Timberwolves look like a team that has figured some things out, plus Anthony Edwards will make a leap. Sacramento will again bring an elite offense but their lack of defense will hold them back. The Clippers could finish higher than eighth if they take the regular season seriously and Kawhi Leonard stays healthy, but it’s hard to bet on that.
Western Conference Finals prediction: Suns over Nuggets
Eastern Conference odds, predictions
Boston and Milwaukee are head and shoulders better than everyone else in the conference — adding Damian Lillard (Bucks) and Kristaps Porzingis (Celtics) will do that. I’m high on the Cavaliers taking a step forward this season with the addition of Max Strus and the evolution of Evan Mobley, plus they have an elite defense. Philly will be good with Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey, no matter what happens with James Harden, but whether it’s good enough to keep Embiid happy is the big question. Miami just finds ways to win games, plus Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo are elite. Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle will have the Knicks winning many games, but I don’t see a step forward for the team as a whole. Putting Trae Young and the Hawks — now coached by Quin Snyder — in the play-in may be selling them short, but I need to see it to believe. I am very high on the Pacers taking a big step forward this season and think this could be too low for them.
The Raptors have a real chance to crack that top eight, and the Bulls will also be in the mix.
Eastern Conference Finals prediction: Celtics over Bucks
2024 NBA Finals Odds and Prediction
NBA Championship odds: Boston Celtics +400, Milwaukee Bucks +400, Denver Nuggets +550, Phoenix Suns +650, Los Angeles Lakers +1200, Golden State Warriors +1300.
NBA Finals Prediction:
Boston Celtics over Phoenix Suns, 4-2
Choosing between Boston and Milwaukee to come out of the East is a matter of taste. Do you prefer the team with the best duo in the league (Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo), or do you want the squad with more depth and balance (Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and the Celtics)? I will take the better team in Boston, but that is the Eastern Conference Finals we all need to see. It would be intense.
Out West, the top-end talent in Phoenix is not in doubt — Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Bradley Beal — instead the questions center on depth and defense. I am betting Frank Vogel and Phoenix figure that part out over the course of 82, and it lets their talent take over in the postseason.
That will be enough for Phoenix to reach the Finals when the Suns run into a better and deeper team in the Celtics.