The Celtics are clear favorites to win the 2023 NBA Finals heading into February. This is an important month around the Association with the trade deadline set for Feb. 9 and All-Star Weekend beginning soon after.

Most teams have played 50 games, give or take, at this point of the season and clear tiers have formed in the SI Sportsbook championship futures market despite how flat the standings are after the top teams in either conference.

Boston, which owns the best record in the league and lost in the 2022 Finals, is a +350 favorite at SI Sportsbook to win the title. Though there’s a sizable dropoff after the frontrunner, the three teams with the best odds to win it all hail from the East as the Bucks and Nets are tied for the second-shortest odds at +550. The Nuggets, who stand atop the West, have the next best odds with +700 odds and the defending champion Warriors round out the top five with +750 odds.

You’ll recall that the Celtics authored a miraculous turnaround after toiling around .500 in January one year ago. They went on a run, earned the No. 2 seed and fought through the Eastern Conference playoffs all the way to a Finals appearance, a fate which seemed improbable just months earlier.

It may feel like there’s no such sleeper lurking in the league’s landscape after the top contenders, but stranger things have happened.

2023 NBA Championship Odds

Boston Celtics +350
Milwaukee Bucks +550
Brooklyn Nets +550
Denver Nuggets +700
Golden State Warriors +750
Memphis Grizzlies +850
Philadelphia 76ers +1100
Los Angeles Clippers +1200
Phoenix Suns +1300
Cleveland Cavaliers +1400
New Orleans Pelicans +1700
Dallas Mavericks +2500
Miami Heat +3500
Los Angeles Lakers +4000
Toronto Raptors +5000
Sacramento Kings +7500
Atlanta Hawks +8000
Portland Trail Blazers +10000
Minnesota Timberwolves +10000
Chicago Bulls +22000
New York Knicks +22000
Utah Jazz +25000
Indiana Pacers +30000
Detroit Pistons +50000
Orlando Magic +50000
San Antonio Spurs +50000
Houston Rockets +50000
Oklahoma City Thunder +50000
Charlotte Hornets +50000
Washington Wizards +50000

Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

The Favorite: Celtics (+350)

Even with a first-year head coach, the Celtics have not experienced any hangover from their Finals defeat. They’ve been the best team in basketball this season, full stop, after making marginal upgrades to a roster that was two wins away from hoisting the franchise’s 18th banner. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both continued their upward ascent, offseason trade acquisition Malcolm Brogdon is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate and despite injuries that have sidelined Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III, the defense has not slipped much.

Boston ranks fourth in defensive rating, fourth in offensive rating and first in net rating. Only the Warriors make more three-pointers per game and the team is also in the top 10 in assists and rebounds per game. The core of the roster has plenty of playoff experience with Tatum, Brown and Smart all making multiple trips to the Conference finals together prior to the championship appearance a season ago when it went through perhaps the toughest possible path.

The Celtics are the rightful favorite, of course. But there’s always risk attached to betting on a team that’s so far ahead of the field. There was value in the preseason when Golden State, not Boston, had the shortest odds to win. Joe Mazulla has his team hurtling toward a 55-plus-win season and these odds might only shorten as the postseason approaches. The C’s are the team to beat.

Value Bet: Philadelphia 76ers (+1100)

This iteration of the 76ers has never made it out of the second round. Despite back-to-back MVP runner-up campaigns by Joel Embiid, Philadelphia has fallen flat in the semifinals in consecutive seasons under coach Doc Rivers. Trading for James Harden at the deadline last year did not put the team over the top, but there’s reason to believe that this version of the Sixers has what it takes to finally break through.

Philly ranks seventh in offensive rating, fourth in defensive rating and fifth in net rating. It owns the fourth-best record but has the seventh-best title odds. Embiid leads the league in scoring, again, at 33.6 points per game, and is again making an MVP case and Harden’s 11 assists per game would be the best mark in basketball had he played enough games to qualify. Tyrese Maxey, after a breakout postseason, has emerged as a third star alongside Embiid and Harden and offseason addition De’Anthony Melton has carved out a role in the starting lineup.

The next few months will tell a lot about the 76ers, who have the second-hardest remaining schedule, according to Philadelphia is 3–2 so far against the three other top-four seeds in the East (Boston, Milwaukee and Brooklyn). It will have to get past one or more of those teams in a seven-game series come playoff time, which makes holding on to home court advantage crucial. With Embiid, the Sixers always have a case for having the best player on the floor, which so often makes the difference in April, May and June.

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Sleeper: Kings (+7500)

Yes, it would be wild for the Kings to not only end their NBA-record 16-year playoff drought but also capture the Larry O’Brien Trophy in that same season—and it probably won’t happen! But Sacramento has longer odds to win the Finals than teams like the Raptors, who are six games below .500. There’s value here.

There are 15 teams deemed more likely than the Kings to win the title but only seven teams across the league (and just two in the West) have a better record than Sacramento, which would have home-court advantage in a first-round playoff series if the regular season ended today. Under coach Mike Brown, who came over from Golden State, the Kings rank second in offensive rating and seventh in net rating. The kicker is they rank 21st in defensive rating, but that’s further testament to their league-best offense, which largely counteracts that deficiency on defense. Half-court defense is important in the playoffs when the game slows down, but only the Nuggets have been better on offense than the Beam Team so far.

Sacramento has a case to have two All-Stars representing it in Salt Lake City: De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis. Fox is having the most efficient year of his career and Sabonis, in his first full season with the team, leads the league in rebounds and his team in assists. Fourth overall pick Keegan Murray is putting together a solid rookie season and offseason additions Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter are both major contributors to a team that’s already three victories shy of surpassing its 2022 total.

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