As they enter Game 4 against the Atlanta Hawks Monday night, it suddenly feels like all the shots are falling for the 76ers.
Literally, the shots have been falling — they hit on 58.2% from the field and 47.6% from deep in Game 3, with 52.9% and 46.2% splits in Game 2, not bad for a team that shot 47.6% overall and 37.4% on three-pointers during the regular season.
But we mean this in the figurative sense. When the second round of the NBA playoffs tipped off, Joel Embiid was questionable to play, and therefore the 76ers were questionable to even get past the Atlanta Hawks; and the Brooklyn Nets were finally healthy, and therefore they were the clear-cut favorite to the win the championship.
Now, Embiid, despite a small meniscus tear, appears to be operating at the peak of his powers and the Sixers are as high as -770 at FanDuel Sportsbook to advance to the conference finals, while the Nets are down two of their “big three” — James Harden is nursing a hamstring injury and Kyrie Irving turned an ankle Sunday — and are even money at FOX Bet, +105 at DraftKings, and +110 underdogs at FanDuel to get past the Milwaukee Bucks.
The seas have parted. There’s still a long way to go, and the shots — literal and figurative — can start clanking off the rim at any moment, but the Sixers are in as strong a position with seven teams remaining as they could have hoped for.
And yet, every single PA online sportsbook still prices the Nets as the favorite to win the title, at numbers ranging from +200 at Caesars PA to +275 at Betfred. The Utah Jazz are second, from +300 at FanDuel to +350 at Caesars. Sitting in third are the Phoenix Suns, from +350 at Caesars to +410 at FanDuel. Next in line are the Bucks, priced as low as +450 at Kambi-affiliated books such as DraftKings, BetRivers, and Barstool and as high as +500 at Betfred and Caesars. And then, in fifth place, with championship odds as high as +650 at FanDuel, we find the Sixers.
That’s not terribly different than the +800 odds Philly faced when the playoffs were about to tip off, eight Sixers games (six of them victories) ago.
Are the books underrating this squad?
One reason the Sixers’ championship odds — not to mention their Eastern Conference odds, where at a high price of +200 they still trail the Nets (+160) and Bucks (+175) — haven’t moved much is that once they locked up the top seed in the East, it was known that their path was favorable. They would open with a play-in qualifier (turned out to be Washington), then get the Atlanta-New York winner, then await whoever survives Nets-Bucks in the conference finals. So other than the Nets’ injury woes and the elimination of the defending champion L.A. Lakers (which could have theoretically mattered in the endgame), nothing has changed for the 76ers.
Another reason the Sixers have only the third-best odds to win their conference and only the fifth-best odds to win the title is Embiid’s injury history.
The MVP runner-up has been exceptional against the Hawks, averaging 36 minutes, 35 points, and 10 rebounds through the first three games, with 7 blocks and 4 steals. When healthy, he was the most dominant two-way player in the NBA this season. He sure looks like that “when healthy” version of himself right now, even if the MRIs suggest otherwise. But he’s always one awkward landing away from disaster. And without Embiid, the Sixers have almost no realistic path to victory in a best-of-seven against Milwaukee, Brooklyn, or whichever team comes out of the West.
Still, the Jazz, who are no sure thing to even get past the L.A. Clippers and get out of Round 2, have shorter odds? Same with the Bucks, who are tied 2-2 against the Nets and aren’t playing well and might have been swept by now if Harden and Irving had stayed healthy?
The Suns’ odds make sense, as they just completed a sweep of Denver, are officially one series from the finals, appear healthy, and had a better regular-season record than Philly. But some of the other odds are mildly confounding. Either the books have serious Sixers skepticism, or the bettors haven’t shown enough belief to move the lines.
(For what it’s worth, at DraftKings, 76% of the handle has been on the Sixers to advance past the Hawks, and at PointsBet, it’s 79%. Those are the most lopsided numbers of any second-round series, so at least in the short term, bettors buying in isn’t the problem.)
Game 4 lines, and assorted props
Speaking of the short-term, the 76ers are three-point favorites in Atlanta in Game 4 Monday night, and they range on the moneyline from -145 at Betfred to -165 at BetMGM.
The point total for the game is either 225 or 225½, depending on the sportsbook.
A few additional odds and ends:
- The price on Embiid for finals MVP is +700, almost identical to the Sixers’ team price to win. That doesn’t seem like a great deal. If there’s a value pick right now, it might be the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard at +1000, as he’s clearly the best player on his team, and that team, though down 2-1 to Utah at the moment, is realistically capable of beating anyone over seven games.
- If you’re looking for another 76er to win NBA Finals MVP, you have to scroll fairly far down the list. Ben Simmons has the 16th best odds at 80/1, Tobias Harris is 20th at 300/1, and you can get 1000/1 on Seth Curry or Shake Milton. Yes, that Shake Milton. Honestly, Harris at 300/1 might be worth a sprinkle. If the Sixers get to the finals, and Embiid should happen to go down midway through the series with an injury, but Philly wins (maybe the other team suffers a notable injury too), Harris is the leading candidate to put up big scoring numbers for Philly. Yes, it’s a lot of “ifs” — but not so many as to dissuade a flyer at 300/1.
- A quick player prop for Game 4: This has been ESPN’s Doug Kezirian’s favorite prop during the Hawks series, and he’s hammering it again even though the juice is rising. He’s been betting Simmons under 7.5 rebounds, a winner so far with the 6’11” point guard putting up 4, 3, and 4 boards in the first three games of this series, due in part to him being tasked with guarding Trae Young and spending most of his time far from the basket. At DraftKings, the number remains 7.5 boards, although the under now costs a steep -150. FanDuel has moved the line down to 6.5 rebounds, with the under at +112. That’s a much better return, as long as you’re prepared to hate yourself if Simmons grabs exactly seven boards.
Photo by Bill Streitcher / USA Today Sports