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After beating Pacers, Celtics are poised to become the first preseason favorite to win the NBA Finals since 2018

The Boston Celtics are four wins away from becoming the first preseason favorite to win the NBA Finals since the Golden State Warriors.

Boston opened the season as co-favorites for the 2024 title at BetMGM with the Milwaukee Bucks at +400. Both teams saw their odds drop significantly over the course of the offseason; the Celtics added Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis, while Milwaukee traded Holiday to the Portland Trail Blazers as part of a package to acquire Damian Lillard.

If Boston beats the Dallas Mavericks (their very likely Finals opponent) or the Minnesota Timberwolves (very unlikely), the Celtics will become the first preseason title favorite to actually win the Finals since 2018. That season, the Warriors opened at -187 for won the title per Basketball Reference after going 67-15 and winning the NBA Finals the season before.

Here’s a look at the preseason favorites from the past five seasons and how they fared in the playoffs.

Table of Contents

  • Favorite preseason: Golden State Warriors (-168)

  • NBA Finals Winner: Toronto Raptors (+1850)

By now you know how everything went wrong for the Warriors in the postseason. Kevin Durant returned from a calf injury to tear his Achilles tendon in the final and Klay Thompson tore his ACL. The Warriors cruised to a third consecutive Finals victory in their fifth consecutive Finals appearance.

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Instead, the Raptors won the title in Kawhi Leonard’s only season in Toronto. The Raptors made a bold trade for Leonard prior to the season and it paid off with a 58-24 regular season record and second-place finish in the playoffs. Leonard’s iconic shot sent the Raptors to the Eastern Conference finals in Game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers, and Toronto defeated a depleted Golden State team in six games.

The Lakers were a solid No. 2 favorite for the Clippers ahead of what turned out to be a tumultuous 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lakers struggled in LeBron James’ first season in Los Angeles, but traded for Anthony Davis prior to the 2019-20 season. With a team built around James and Davis and role players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Danny Green playing key roles, the Lakers won each of their Western Conference playoff series in five games before defeating the Heat in six games.

The Clippers were the favorites after signing Leonard and trading for Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder. They took a 3–1 lead in the conference semifinals against the Denver Nuggets before collapsing in the next three games. Los Angeles failed to break 100 points in Game 6 or Game 7, as the Nuggets won both games by double digits.

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The Lakers were favored to go back-to-back, but James and Davis were hampered by injuries as the season progressed. The two players played together in just 81 games during the shortened 72-game season as the Lakers finished 42-30. That led to a No. 7 ranking in the West and a six-game loss to the Phoenix Suns in the first round.

The Bucks took third place in the East and battled the Brooklyn Nets in seven games before defeating the Atlanta Hawks in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals. Two-time defending MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo scored more than 40 points in three of the six games in the finals.

The best team never opened as clear favorites for the 2021-2022 season. The Nets consisted of Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden and looked poised to become one of the best offensive teams ever.

Instead, Irving played in just 29 games, Durant played in 55 and Harden played in just 44 games. Brooklyn finished 44-38 and was awarded the No. 7 seed in the East before being meekly swept out of the playoffs by the Celtics in the first round.

The Warriors finished third in the West with a 53–29 record as Thompson averaged 20 points per game in his return from knee and Achilles injuries, and Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins also provided secondary scoring. With Thompson healthy for the playoffs, the Warriors lost just four games through their first three series before defeating the Celtics in six games. Unless Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green can score one more time, 2022 appears to have been the final battle of the Warriors dynasty.

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After losing in the first round of the playoffs the season before, the Nuggets opened 18-1 to win the title. Denver didn’t have Jamal Murray at all in 2021-22 due to an ACL injury, and he returned to average 20 points in 65 games in 2022-23.

In the playoffs, Murray showed why he and now three-time MVP Nikola Jokic are one of the best duos in the league as they propelled the Nuggets to the NBA title after finishing first in the West. Denver went 16-4 over the course of the playoffs, defeating the Miami Heat in five games.

The Celtics were the second seed in the East and followed up their finals appearance against the Warriors as one of the top teams in the regular season. But the Hawks took the Celtics to six games in the first round before Boston had to win Games 6 and 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers to advance to the conference finals and lose to the Miami Heat in seven games.

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