The dog days of the NBA season are upon us as the regular season winds down. Teams near the top of the standings tend to prioritize health and honing in on their playoff rotations over going all out for wins as the stakes are relatively low.
The Celtics are no exception. On January 21st they beat the Toronto Raptors 106-104 to mark their ninth straight win. That left them with a 35-12 mark, the best in the league. Since then however, they have gone a very pedestrian 11-9. The continuity has proven fleeting as virtually every player in their rotation has sat at least a couple of games. A couple of key players like Marcus Smart and Robert Williams have missed plenty of games and Williams is sidelined again now with a hamstring injury. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Bucks have gotten healthy and surged, winning 16 straight and surging to the top of the Eastern Conference with a 47-18 record. The Celtics trail them by two games and lead the third-place Sixers by two in a battle that will in all likelihood determine home court in the second round of the playoffs.
Still, the Celtics remain betting co-favorites as they tie for the shortest title odds over at BetMGM.
- Celtics +350
- Bucks +350
- Suns +400
- Nuggets +700
- Warriors +1200
- Sixers +1300
- Clippers +1600
- Grizzlies +1800
BetMGM still lists Boston as the team to beat in the East
- Celtics +135
- Bucks +150
- Sixers +650
- Cavs +1200
- Knicks +2000
The wait is over for legal online sports betting in Massachusetts. The windows open at 10 AM on March 10th just in time for March Madness and the NBA stretch run. New customers can sign up and take advantage of the BetMGM Massachusetts Bonus Code and get a first bet offer of up to $1000 or receive $200 in bonus bets instead.
The betting odds look pretty much in line as far as the advanced stats go. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index currently rates the Bucks as the best team, with a 6.1 BPI, roughly meaning they would be favored by 6.1 points over a league-average team playing at league-average tempo on a neutral court. They have the Celtics virtually tied at 5.9 BPI. BPI gives the Bucks a 30.5% chance to win the East, which translates to +228 betting odds, and a 20.6% (+385) chance to take the title. The Celtics are just a smidge lower at 29.6% in the East (+238) and 19.5% overall (+413).
FiveThirtyEight’s model absolutely loved the Celtics in 2021-22 and earlier this season, but their recent run of play has cooled their enthusiasm significantly. They now have the Bucks at 36% to win the East and 23% to take the title, with Boston at 26% and 15% respectively.
Take all models with a serious grain of salt of course. BPI rates the Clippers as the best in the West and third overall and the Knicks as fourth. Neither system seems to know how to price the Suns and in all fairness, how could they, as Kevin Durant has suited up all of three times? BPI ranks the Suns eighth with 2.7% title odds while FiveThirtyEight has them seventh and 5% to take the crown. The betting market prices them with a 20% shot.
Again, the Celtics real goal down the stretch is to enter the playoffs healthy and get the lineup rotations set as best as possible. Getting team-high at least holding off the Sixers would be nice, but they will likely not go overboard trying to achieve that. Robert Williams remains out for another week at least, while some reports suggest he could stay sidelined until near playoff time. He has only played in 28 games this year but is by far Boston’s best inside presence. He’s averaging 8.6 Rebounds per game and a team high 1.2 blocks per game. The Celtics are 4.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court vs when he sits according to Cleaning The Glass, most specifically because they literally dominate on the glass when he is playing.
The Celtics best lineup this season according to CTG is when they have Williams on the floor along with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and Derrick White. They outscore opponents by a whopping 43.6 points per 100 possessions, just about the best combo in the league. Unfortunately for Boston, they have only had the chance to get that group together for 138 possessions all season.
Their most common alignment is that same group but with Marcus Smart instead of Williams and Horford sliding over to the 5. The Celtics have lined up that way on 662 possessions and outscored opponents by 13.2 points per 100 possessions. That current group is all healthy, though Horford sits often.
Another variation that works for the Celtics has Grant Williams at the 4 with the above group with Smart out. They have run that out on 227 possessions and outscored opponents by 10.5 per 100.
For the playoffs, all matches will be in high demand, see how to save money on sports tickets. All in all, this is what the Celtics will need to iron out down the stretch. Avoid overworking everyone but see how to best align once the playoffs start. The betting markets suggest that Boston will do a good job figuring it out.