By Dave Schwab

College basketball continues to dominate the month of March as the hottest betting sport on the board right now, but things are also heating up at the pro level in the NBA when it comes to the race for the No. 1 spot in both the Eastern and Western Conference standings.

Cleveland in the East and Golden State in the West are still the odds-on favorite to win their respective conference title. However, key injuries to both teams have added some value to a few legitimate contenders when it comes to the recently updated NBA futures odds at many of the top online sportsbooks.

NBA Eastern Conference Futures

The defending NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers are still at the top of the heap in the East as -280 favorites to make a third-straight trip to the NBA Finals, but with an even 5-5 record over their last 10 games heading into this weekend’s action has them as vulnerable as ever. The Cavaliers have been able to come out on top in their last two games with victories against Detroit and Utah at home to maintain a 2.5-game lead over Boston in the conference standings, but that could easily change with six of their next seven games on the road. Cleveland is 45-22 on the year with a shaky 17-15 record away from home.

The Celtics’ odds to win the East are the second-best on the board at +805 and the big question with this team is can it win four games against Cleveland in a best-of-seven playoff series? Boston came out on top in the last meeting with a 103-99 victory as a 1.5-point home favorite on March 1. The Celtics dropped the season series opener 124-118 back on Dec. 29 as six-point underdogs on the road and the rubber match is set for April 5. Boston has had its issues with consistency throughout the year, but there is still some solid value in its current future odds to win the East especially if it can find a way to gain home court advantage in the playoffs.

The Washington Wizards are four games back in the standings as +1105 third-favorites to win the East followed by Toronto at +1405 betting odds. The Raptors are in fourth place in the conference standings and 6.5 games off the pace. Either team could make things interesting in the postseason, but not to the point where I would bet on it.

NBA Western Conference Futures

The entire complexion of the title race in this conference changed when Golden State lost Kevin Durant with a left knee injury. He is expected to be back in plenty of time for the playoffs, but his absence has made one the NBA’s top two teams appear to be vulnerable as well. The Warriors have also gone an even 5-5 in their last 10 games, but with victories in their last two outings they are back on top in the West by a game and a half at 54-14. Their updated futures odds to win a third-straight Western Conference title are down to -195 after being a prohibitive favorite for most of the season.

The team that is hot on their heels in the West is the San Antonio Spurs as +405 second favorites. They briefly held the lead in the West earlier this month on the strength of a nine-game winning streak, but a 2-2 mark in their last four games has the Spurs back in second place with an overall record of 52-15. San Antonio has had some injury issues as well, but it remains the most balanced team in the NBA with an offense that is averaging 106.5 points per game complementing a defense that is second in the league in points allowed (98.5). I would jump on the +405 odds now before even more value is squeezed out of that number as the regular season winds to a close.

The Houston Rockets are third on the list to win the West at +1100 and the only other team that has a legitimate chance to make some noise in the postseason. There is no doubt that the Rockets know how to put points on the board as the second-highest scoring team in the NBA, but their inability to stop opponents from doing the same drains most of the value out of their futures odds.

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