Are the Philadelphia 76ers Now the Favorites to Win the East?

While most of the Eastern Conference is showing its flaws, the Sixers are busy rolling. But are they a safe bet to make the NBA Finals?

Breaking news: the NBA's Eastern Conference is wide open.

For seven consecutive years, the East's representative in the NBA Finals has been whatever team LeBron James has been on (the Miami Heat from 2011 to 2014, the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2015 to 2017). But that could change this year, with James' team looking more vulnerable than it has in recent playoff runs.

LeBron’s Cavs are absent a true second star and, even after shuffling the deck at the deadline, came into this postseason with the lowest defensive rating of all 16 playoff teams. Not so surprisingly, the Indiana Pacers took 1-0 and 2-1 series leads before Cleveland managed to knot it up at 2-2 on Sunday. And suddenly whatever team LeBron’s on doesn’t look like a sure thing.

The top-seeded Toronto Raptors are regressing to a version of themselves that has an annual tradition of imploding in the playoffs (and are currently tied 2-2 with the 8-seeded Washington Wizards in their series), and the Boston Celtics are missing arguably their two best players in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward (and are currently tied 2-2 with the Milwaukee Bucks).

The consensus top-three teams in the conference (Cleveland, Toronto, and Boston) all look incredibly flawed at this point, so who can we expect to come out of the Eastern Conference now?

Enter the up-and-coming Philadelphia 76ers.

In finishing the regular season on a 14-game winning streak and winning the most games of any NBA team post-All-Star break (22), the 76ers carried the NBA's fifth-best offensive rating (111.5), second-best defensive rating (100.8), and second-best net rating (10.7) over that span.

After four games, Philadelphia has a 3-1 lead on the scrappy Miami Heat, and their 93.65% chance of closing it out, according to our algorithm, is the best odds any Eastern Conference team has of advancing to Round Two:

Team First-Round Odds
Philadelphia 76ers 93.65%
Toronto Raptors 73.91%
Cleveland Cavaliers 67.14%
Boston Celtics 60.39%
Milwaukee Bucks 39.61%
Indiana Pacers 32.86%
Washington Wizards 26.09%
Miami Heat 6.35%

The Sixers leading the odds of first-round outcomes in the East is probably obvious, considering that they have a commanding advantage (95.4% of the 237 teams in NBA history that have had such a lead have gone on to win the series) while every other series is tied at two games apiece.

So, the better question here becomes which team actually has the best chance of coming out of the Eastern Conference, and who among the candidates has a shot at this year’s title?

According to both Vegas’ implied odds and our very own probabilities, we shouldn’t crown Philadelphia as Eastern Conference champions just yet:

Team Bovada ECF Champ nF ECF Champ Bovada NBA Champ nF NBA Champ
Toronto Raptors 38.46% 32.83% 9.09% 17.60%
Philadelphia 76ers 34.48% 25.06% 10.00% 9.91%
Cleveland Cavaliers 32.26% 21.74% 10.00% 9.92%
Boston Celtics 4.76% 8.66% 1.49% 2.58%
Indiana Pacers 2.44% 4.25% 1.23% 1.24%
Milwaukee Bucks 3.85% 3.72% 1.49% 1.03%
Washington Wizards 2.44% 2.93% 1.49% 0.86%
Miami Heat 1.49% 0.81% 0.66% 0.18%

Both Vegas and our algorithms still believe in the Raptors to build on their stellar regular season, and not only to make their first ever NBA Finals, but also to have the best odds of winning it over the Western Conference representative, whoever that may be.

But, interestingly enough, both Vegas and our metrics now prefer the Sixers over the Cavs for the next-best odds to reach and win the NBA Finals. That still has time to shift before the end of the first round, but if you’re looking to bet on this year’s Eastern Conference champion (and perhaps their chances in the Finals), suddenly the Philadelphia 76ers are looking like a good dark-horse contender.

The Cavaliers and Raptors could both still lose in Round One, and the Sixers could be sitting in Round Two waiting for the winner of Cleveland-Indiana as soon as tonight (and we give them a 70.1% chance of defeating the Heat and advancing 4-1).

Now might truly be the time to Trust the Process.