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NBA – Eastern Conference Finals Preview

The Boston Celtics and Miami Heat met again in the postseason. Once again, they’re playing for a spot in the NBA Finals.

The Boston Celtics and Miami Heat are back at it in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Miami advanced through the bubble series before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. Boston took the series in seven games last season but couldn’t get past the Golden State Warriors to win it all. So, we’re back. One of the best rivalries in the league right now tips off another conference finals in which the Celtics are heavy favourites.

The centrepieces for each team remain the same in what starts as a two-on-two battle: Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown v Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. However, the Celtics are considered the deepest team in the NBA. At $1.27 and -8.5 favourites to win Game 1, it’s no surprise to see them at an alarmingly short $1.20 to end up as Eastern Conference Champions.

The Celtics are deserving of favouritism. They finished up the regular season as the No.2 seed and appeared to be cruising at times. Scoring 118 points per 100 possessions and allowing only 111.5 points per 100 possessions, Boston’s +6.5 net rating ended up as the best in the league. In the playoffs, Boston handled the Atlanta Hawks in the first round before needing seven games to beat the Philadelphia 76ers. However, it’s that seven-game series that sets them up as heavy favourites to win this one.

Doubts around Boston’s ability to come up with the goods in a big spot are gone. Jayson Tatum, in particular, has proven himself capable of taking his game to another level when his team needs it. Dominating the first half on his way to 51 points in Game 7, Tatum put the team on his back and dragged them through to the conference finals.

Meanwhile, the Heat have taken the long road. Butler knew they’d get here eventually, though.

“Next year, we will have enough, and we’re gonna be right be right back in this same situation and we’re gonna get it done,” Butler said after losing in Game 7 of this series last year.

They’re just the second-ever 8th seed to make it to the conference finals and are at $4.60 to become the second-ever 8th seed to make the NBA Finals. In contrast to Boston’s NBA-best net rating, Miami finished up at -0.3 for 21st behind their 113.0 offensive rating and 113.3 defensive rating. As a regular season team, the Heat were little more than middling. In the playoffs, however, they shocked the league by beating the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. Add all of the injury excuses you like to the Bucks; the Heat played their part and deserved to advance. Having dominated around Jimmy Butler’s scoring to beat the Bucks, the Heat embraced their physicality to beat the New York Knicks at their own game in the second round.

At long odds to beat the Celtics in this one, the Heat will need to combine both Butler’s scoring and their physicality in defence if they’re to shock the NBA world again.

MORE: Western Conference Finals Preview

The Markets

While the Celtics have been a top team for a few years now, it’s only just starting to really show in the odds.

This is the year it’s all coming together for Boston to enter the Conference Finals as $1.20 favourites to advance, and $2 to advance one further and win the NBA Finals.

Tatum is the man of the moment and is expected to remain as the focus for both teams. He’s an unbackable $1.36 to end the series as the Eastern Conference Finals MVP. His performance in Game 7 against the 76ers is one of the best in NBA history and sets him up nicely to hit the ground running against the Heat. Jaylen Brown has performed exceptionally well to average 24.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists throughout the playoffs, but this is Tatum’s team. Brown is a complimentary piece capable of winning the odd game himself. He’s unlikely to threaten Tatum as MVP at $6.

Jimmy Butler, on the other hand…

‘Playoff Jimmy’ jumps at $5 to win the conference MVP award. He goes to another level at this point of the NBA season. He will need to if the Heat are to win this series at $4.60. To paint the picture of how reliant the Heat are on Butler, Bam Adebayo is next on the list at $67

Players To Watch

Playoff Jimmy: Jimmy Butler is averaging 31.1 points per game in the playoffs – 1st. He has scored 28 clutch points across the first two rounds – 1st. He’s the man you don’t want to meet in the NBA playoffs and will be the man who determines which way this series goes. If Playoff Jimmy is allowed to score and prop up Miami’s offence while their hard-nosed defence digs in, we could be in for another upset. If he struggles for his 30 points, it’s difficult to see the Heat having enough in them to keep up with Boston’s fire-power. It’s all on you, Jimmy.

Kevin Love: One man that can help Butler on the offensive end but not at a game-winning level four times is Kevin Love. His playoff numbers don’t jump off the page: 7.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. Still, he’s quietly become one of the most underrated additions in the league this season. He’s spacing the floor while shooting 34% from deep on 5.4 three-point attempts per game. His rebounding takes some of the burden off Adebayo after the Heat finished at 27th in the NBA in rebounding with only 40.6 per game. The Heat can’t rely on him too much, but Love could be a key contributor to an upset in this series.

Jayson Tatum: He tipped off the regular season as one of the MVP favourites. He maintained that status through the early weeks of the season but couldn’t keep up with Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid by the end. However, Tatum has saved his best for the end. He’s $1.36 to win the conference MVP and $2.30 to win the NBA Finals MVP on the back of 28.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.2 blocks per game throughout the playoffs. Unlike Butler, Tatum has a reliable supporting cast around him. He’s learning when to use them and involve them in the game, and when to take it all on himself. In Game 7, he didn’t give anybody else on the court a chance. With this series looking likely to get to six or seven, it’s in the late games where Tatum will make his biggest impact.

Tips

Jimmy Butler is rested and ready to get this series underway. Whether it be through scoring or helping his teammates get buckets, expect Jimmy Buckets to have a high usage rate in the series opener. It’s important that the Heat keep the game close if not turn the series on its head with a Game 1 win. With that in mind, Butler to finish up with Over 33.5 Pts + Ast appeals at $1.93.

From there, Butler at $5 to win the Eastern Conference MVP award stands out. The Heat don’t need the series for him to be in with a sniff. If Playoff Jimmy is there throughout and keeps the Heat close, judges will consider the consolation prize if his numbers stack up.

BET ON GAME 1 & NBA FUTURES HERE:

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