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Bettor’s NBA East Top 5 Report: Celtics, Bucks Face Challenges

We resume In-Season Tournament play this week with the Knockout Round, while those that didn’t make it out of the group play will take on two new opponents on the schedule. It’s a good time to hit the reset button on our East Top 5 Report, which has nestled within it some bet tips for NBA action.


Bettor’s NBA East Top 5 Report: Celtics, Bucks Face Challenges
Jrue Holiday #4 of the Boston Celtics looks on during a game/Maddie Meyer/Getty Images/AFP

1. Boston Celtics (+150 to Win Eastern Conference)

They carry a three-game winning streak into the Knockout Round on Monday at Indiana. The most recent of those victories came against Philadelphia in a game that saw Jayson Tatum ejected. The 76ers were without their two best players, but it was still notable how the Celtics survived a tight one late without their leader.

Boston is a similar team to last season, when it fell short of the NBA Finals, with one notable exception. Despite ridding itself of defensive stalwarts Marcus Smart and Robert Williams, the squad has become a much stingier team on that end of the floor.

Jrue Holiday has a lot to do with that. He can match up with just about anyone. But the crew as a whole – led by Tatum’s much-improved work on that end – has become something special. Opponents shoot just 44.0%, lowest in the East, and average 107.4 points, four points fewer than they put up against the Celtics last season.

If and when Boston is raising that Larry O’Brien Trophy in a handful of months – as our sportsbook odds suggest – the experts and analysts will be talking about what they did on the defensive end to get to that next level.


2. Milwaukee Bucks (+185)

They suffered a recent overtime loss at a desperate Chicago team the other night before bounding back at home against Atlanta. The game that caught our attention, however, was the one right before those two, an In-Season matchup at Miami that had a playoff vibe.

In that heated affair, the Bucks finished on a 16-6 run, making five of their last six shots on the road to steal the game and advance to the Knockout Round. Damian Lillard then uttered these words: “The one thing that we do have going for us is we know how to win the game. We know how to do the things to win a game.

If you witnessed the stretch run of that game, you couldn’t argue with Lillard. Facing the defending East champs, Milwaukee was in control when it mattered most, putting forth the kind of clutch play that defines champion-like teams.

If you have a long-term bet online in favor of the Bucks (perhaps an over on their win total or an East title or NBA title), remember that Heat game. It’ll get you through some of the inevitable slumps along the way, knowing there is some pedigree here.

Now, if they could just play defense on a regular basis.


3. Philadelphia 76ers (+650)

The Sixers have lost two straight, their third two-game slide since the 8-1 start that once had them atop this power ranking. That’s a bit troubling, but we’ll cut them a little slack.

First of all, Philadelphia had to go without both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey on Friday in Boston, but both were dealing with illnesses and should be okay going forward. Secondly, the Sixers’ current 4-6 stretch came against a very challenging run of opponents.

Consider that each of their last 11 opponents entered the game at .500 or better, with nine of them sporting winning records. It’s one reason why the Sixers’ schedule ranks as one of the most difficult.

That all changes Monday night, as a run of cream puffs begins to fill the slate. Philadelphia plays Washington twice, Detroit twice and Atlanta, Charlotte and Chicago once apiece over an incredibly soft seven-game span. It should pile up five, six or seven wins and be in pretty good shape in the standings around the holidays.


4. New York Knicks (+2200)

The Knicks are riding their third three-game winning streak in less than a month. The first one ended with a loss at Boston. The second one ended with a loss at Minnesota. They play at Milwaukee in an In-Season contest Monday and hope to finally beat a big-time squad on the road to stretch it to four in a row.

Actually, this has been a theme all season for a quality crew that is hoping to join the big dogs atop the East. The Knicks are 10-0 against teams below .500 and just 2-7 against winning squads, according to ESPN. Getting a win in Milwaukee and moving on to Las Vegas will do a lot to change the minds of some of those who still doubt this squad.


5. Orlando Magic (+5000)

The Magic lost by 20 points at Brooklyn on Nov. 14. Then they won nine in a row. Then they lost by 28 points at Brooklyn on Saturday.

Here’s the good news, Magic fans. There are no more trips to Brooklyn! In fact, Orlando won’t even see the Nets again until after the All-Star break at home.

In between the Brooklyn beatings, the Magic proved they can contend in the East. They scored wins over Boston and Denver and at Indiana during the nine-game run, averaging 127.1 points over the last seven of those wins.

As one of the early surprises in the NBA, Orlando has a league-best 14-6 mark against the spread. Vegas will catch up at some point and that should normalize. But until we see otherwise, the Magic will remain one of the top basketball NBA picks on a nightly basis.


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