NBA Playoffs Betting Preview: Heat Lead Eastern Conference Odds ColumnistApril 18, 2014

Indiana Pacers' Paul George (24) drives to the basket as Miami Heat's LeBron James defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, April 11, 2014, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky

The Miami Heat won just 54 games, lost 14 of their last 25 and ceded the top spot in the East to the Indiana Pacers.

However, the Heat have won the Eastern Conference three times in a row and the last two NBA championships, and oddsmakers are giving them the benefit of the doubt that they still know what they're doing.

Miami begins its 2014 playoff drive as the No. 2 seed in the East with a first-round series against the Charlotte Bobcats on Sunday. And the Heat remain the top betting choice to represent the East in the NBA Finals.

Indiana beat the Heat by two games in the battle for the best record in the East despite losing 13 of its last 23 games. The top-seeded Pacers will begin the playoffs with a series against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, where they opened as 7.5-point chalk.

The Toronto Raptors, after missing the playoffs the previous five seasons, earned the No. 3 seed in the East by winning 48 games, 14 more than last season. Toronto opens the playoffs with a first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets (favored by two points, according to Odds Shark) on Saturday.

And the Washington Wizards, who also hadn't made the playoffs in five years, are in as the No. 5 seed in the East. They begin the playoffs with a series against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday. The Bulls were favored by 4.5 points in early wagering.

Miami swept four games from Charlotte during the regular season, going 3-1 against the spread. But one of those covers came when the Heat, as six-point road favorites without Dwyane Wade, outscored the Bobcats by eight points in an overtime period.

Indiana may have won 18 more games than Atlanta this season, but the Hawks managed to split the season series with the Pacers, going 2-1-1 ATS in the process.

Toronto and Brooklyn also split their season series, playing three games that were decided by four points or less.

Finally, Washington finished four games behind Chicago in the standings but took two of three games from the Bulls. Chicago went 2-1 ATS, however. 

As the teams take a quick breather before beginning their first-round series, Miami is chalked as the favorite to win the East at 2-3 odds. Indiana is the second choice at 2-1 followed by Brooklyn at 9-1, Chicago at 12-1, Toronto at 20-1, Washington at 50-1, Charlotte at 75-1 and Atlanta at 100-1.