Celtics finally worthy of being a favorite

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The Boston Celtics are finally playing like they’re worthy of the Eastern Conference favorite’s role they’ve been cast in for much of the season despite their early struggles.

The Toronto Raptors were 7-to-5 (-140) to win the East according to the Westgate SuperBook’s odds to open December, but its Dec. 10 odds update moved Toronto to 8-to-5 (-160) and bumped Boston up to a co-favorite’s role. Although the Milwaukee Bucks have owned the NBA’s top winning percentage and margin of victory for weeks and the Raptors entered the week with a league-high 35 wins, the Celtics shed them as a co-favorite just before the new year and have remained the top choice throughout January.

Boston snapped a mid-month three-game losing streak with a comeback win at home over Toronto on Jan. 16 and hasn’t lost since, winning its fourth straight 107-99 over Miami on Martin Luther King Day. As of Monday, they’re a 3-to-2 (-140) favorite to win the East and reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.

The Celtics remain closer to fourth place in the Atlantic Division than they were to first due to the impressive run the Brooklyn Nets have made over the past month, but we’re starting to see why oddsmakers have had so much faith in them. Kyrie Irving is finally fully healthy after nursing injuries to his shoulder, shin, cornea and most recently, his quad. He racked up eight steals against the Heat on Monday and has now averaged 30.8 points and 11 assists on this recent four-game surge. He’ll face Cleveland on Wednesday and then gets a few days to prepare for his team’s biggest test of the season as the Warriors come through town on Saturday night for a nationally-televised showcase between the teams expected to meet for the NBA title come June.

Golden State is a massive 4-to-9 (-225) favorite to win it all while the Celtics come in at 6-to-1 (+600). Their prime-time clash is going to be the most anticipated sporting event of a weekend that doesn’t include competitive football since the Pro Bowl doesn’t check that box.

We get to witness another matchup between Irving and Curry, who got quite cozy during the Warriors-Cavs Finals matchups back in ‘16 and ‘17. Agitators and respective team pit bulls Draymond Green and Marcus Smart will undoubtedly be barking, while DeMarcus Cousins will run into his first fellow All-Star center since returning from his ruptured Achilles, tangling with Al Horford.

Horford was shelved through most of December due to knee pain and has been on a minutes’ restriction that Celtics coach Brad Stevens has only recently relented upon. He’s averaged 17.8 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 67 percent from the field over Boston’s four-game win streak.

Put plans of backing Boston to win it all, or even get out of the East on pause for the time being. Unless they’re able to displace the 76ers or Pacers for a top-four finish in the conference, they’re going to open the playoffs on the road. I don’t see the appeal of taking a leap of faith that they’ll be able to overcome their slow start throughout the postseason without the benefit of a homecourt .

Cavaliers at Celtics (Wednesday): Expect the Celtics to obliterate a Cavs team that will come into Boston with the NBA’s worst record, losers in 16 of 17. It’s a tune-up game where everyone gets to eat, so lay whatever huge number you’re required to and don’t blink at the fact it’s likely going to be north of 16-17 points. Oddsmakers won’t go to 20, and Boston will win by at least that. Cross your fingers that no one gets hurt because we want to see everyone healthy for Saturday’s potential Finals preview. Boston will remain at TD Garden through the rest of the month, finishing a five-game homestand against the Nets and Hornets next week. CELTICS

Bucks at Thunder (Sunday): The Bucks still pack the most value since they’ll likely secure the No. 1 seed and are still just a 3-to-1 choice. For our second free winner for this week, expect them to open a five-game road trip with a win at Oklahoma City in Sunday’s top matchup. Milwaukee hasn’t been an underdog since Dec. 9 so it may even be laying a bucket against the Thunder but should be up for the challenge and figures to come through. BUCKS

Last week: 0-2

Season: 15-13

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About the Author
Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia has been a national writer for nearly two decades and has covered NBA and college basketball as a columnist, analyst, handicapper, and bracketologist for CBS Sports, Pro Basketball News, and numerous other sites.

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