LeBron James will not be in the postseason challenging for the NBA championship this spring, opening the door for new contenders to compete for the Larry O'Brien Trophy in 2019.
Leading the way in the Eastern Conference are the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, who finished with the league's best record at 60-22, and they are the +650 second choice (bet $100 to win $650) on the NBA championship odds to take home their first title since 1971 at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.
Of course the two-time defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors (57-25) are again the Western Conference's No. 1 seed, and they are also heavy -225 favorites (bet $225 to win $100) to complete a three-peat this season. Last year, the Warriors made their fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance as the second seed in the West behind the Houston Rockets, ending their run of four straight seasons as the top seed.
Milwaukee obviously has far less playoff experience than Golden State, as the team has not made it past the first round since 2001. The Bucks fell to the Boston Celtics in seven games last year, but they have taken advantage of the absence of James to become the best team in the East thanks to the emergence of MVP frontrunner Giannis Antetokounmpo and head coach Mike Budenholzer.
The Bucks' main competition in the Eastern Conference figures to come from the second-seeded Toronto Raptors (+950 to win the NBA title), third-seeded Philadelphia 76ers (+1600) and fourth-seeded Celtics (+1600).
Of that group, the Raptors are the most susceptible to an upset in the first round against the seventh-seeded Orlando Magic (+10000). The Magic enter the postseason as the hottest team in the East, riding a four-game winning streak and going 11-2 straight up and 10-3 against the spread in their last 13 games, according to the OddsShark NBA Database. That said, Boston is the best bet to advance to the NBA Finals from the conference based on experience and previous success versus Milwaukee.
Orlando's equivalent in the West is the sixth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder (49-33), who have won five games in a row and hold a lot of value at +3500 to win it all because they have a solid shot to meet the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Oklahoma City faces the third-seeded Portland Trail Blazers (53-29) in the first round and then could meet either the second-seeded Denver Nuggets (54-28) or seventh-seeded San Antonio Spurs (48-34) in the second.
The top challenger for Golden State in the West might be the fourth-seeded Houston Rockets (53-29) at +1100 on the NBA odds to win it all, although they have to get past the fifth-seeded Utah Jazz (50-32) in the first round. The Warriors take on the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers (48-34) in the first round and may be vulnerable in the Western Conference Finals if they have to battle it out with the Rockets in the second round. That makes the Thunder the best bet from the conference in the other side of the bracket.