Well, at least nobody’s talking about Joel Embiid’s thumb injury anymore.
The 76ers, their superstar center, their fans, and sports bettors holding futures tickets were dealt a devastating blow on Friday night when reports emerged that Embiid had suffered a concussion and an orbital bone fracture in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s closeout game against Toronto, leading to two words nobody wants to hear: out indefinitely.
On Sunday, though, the mood improved after ESPN NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski said, “There’s optimism …”
ESPN Sources: Joel Embiid won’t travel for Games 1 and 2 in Miami, but there’s optimism he could return as soon as either Game 3 or 4 in Philadelphia. He needs to clear concussion protocols and see doctor mid-week on his orbital fracture. More on NBA Countdown at 12:30 ET on ABC.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 1, 2022
With the Sixers set to open their second-round playoff series in Miami Monday night, the betting odds swung wildly with each report. Philly went from slight underdog before bookmakers had any idea about the damage Pascal Siakam’s elbow had done to Embiid’s face, to serious longshot on Friday evening, to somewhere in between as of Monday morning — as books and bettors try to figure out what the Sixers’ chances are of stealing a game on the road this week without Embiid, what the likelihood is that the big man will return by Game 3 in Philly, and how close to MVP caliber he would be while wearing a protective mask in the playoffs for the second time in five seasons.
When the odds on the series opened, the most customer-friendly prices that could be found on the Sixers at PA’s mobile sportsbooks were +155 to win the series (FOX Bet), +500 to win the East (FOX Bet, BetMGM, and DraftKings), and +1600 to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy (DraftKings).
Once the “out indefinitely” phrase hit, the numbers ballooned. Most of the books moved the 76ers to about +300 to get past the Heat, and PointsBet PA went all the way up to +375. The biggest payout on the Sixers to win the East reached +1100. And to win the title, they were a clear eighth of eight remaining teams at +3000.
But there was value to be had in those numbers, arguably, if a gambler believed two things: The Embiid-less small-ball Sixers can realistically steal one of two games in Miami, and stormtrooper Embiid will be cleared to play by Friday’s Game 3. It’s a dicey parlay, but the 76ers are certainly more live than +375 to beat the Heat if that parlay hits.
And the odds after Sunday’s Woj news reflect that.
As of Monday morning, PointsBet had come down from +375 to +220 on the Sixers to take the series (with the Heat at -375, blocking arbitrage opportunities for folks who pounced on the book’s previous Sixers number), FOX Bet had a much more attractive -333/+260 split, the Kambi books such as BetRivers and Barstool Sportsbook had it at -360/+275, FanDuel went -300/+240, DraftKings was at -350/+270, and BetMGM priced it -350/+260.
To win the East, the Sixers came down from +1100 to +800 at numerous books — still a huge longshot in a conference in which the Bucks, Heat, and Celtics were all bunched between +170 and +230 on Monday morning.
And to win the title, the 76ers dipped from a weekend high of +3000 to +2500 at DraftKings and BetMGM, and are in a three-way tie for the highest numbers with the Dallas Mavericks (who open their series against the Phoenix Suns Monday) and the Memphis Grizzlies (who are at long odds because they already trail the Golden State Warriors 1-0).
Up to +280 to take Game 1
Can the Sixers win a game against the East’s top seed without Embiid?
They should have advantages in the backcourt, especially with Kyle Lowry ruled out. While James Harden has a spotty playoff history, he has plenty of experience being his team’s primary offensive option and found some of his mojo in Game 6 against Toronto. And 21-year-old Tyrese Maxey, though inconsistent, is a constant threat to catch fire, both from beyond the arc and with explosive drives to the hoop.
But the big question is what coach Doc Rivers will do about the center position. Paul Reed is a foul-prone work in progress. DeAndre Jordan and Paul Millsap are both strong candidates to not be on an NBA roster next season. And the small-ball lineup, with 6-foot-7 Georges Niang doing an impression of a center, is a likely defensive disaster.
The Heat, who were 3.5- to 4.5-point favorites in Game 1 before the concussion and fracture were reported, had shifted to -7.5 as of Monday morning. On the moneyline, FanDuel had the best price on Miami at -320, while the Sixers were as high as +280 to pull the upset at DraftKings.
But it was less than six weeks ago that both Embiid and Harden took a night off against Miami and the Sixers beat the full-strength Heat 113-106 behind 28 points from Maxey, 20 from Shake Milton, and 18 from Furkan Korkmaz. Sixers fans and bettors had better hope some unexpected hero emerges in either Game 1 or Game 2 — and the expected hero dons his superhero mask by Game 3.
Photo: Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY