After a 4½-month interruption to their season, it would be reasonable to expect an NBA team to come back looking different, having addressed some deficiencies and smoothed some rough edges.
So far, that is not the case for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Through two of their eight post-shutdown Orlando bubble regular-season games, this looks exactly like the underachieving, chemistry-deficient Sixers squad that had fallen short of almost all expectations through 65 games. They lost as 5½-point favorites vs. Indiana on Saturday and needed a three-pointer from Shake Milton in the waning seconds to avoid a full collapse and defeat against four-point underdog San Antonio Monday night.
Philly is 1-1 in the restart and 0-2 against the spread. Already, their longshot odds to win the NBA title have gotten longer.
Which might just make right now the perfect time to bet on them.
How does 27/1 sound?
Interestingly, the Sixers’ odds to win the Eastern Conference at the assorted legal PA sportsbooks haven’t changed appreciably. Heading into the restart, they were +700 at FanDuel Sportsbook, +800 at DraftKings and the other sites powered by Kambi, and +800 at Caesars, and none of those numbers have moved. The only movement on conference title odds has come at FOX Bet, where the 76ers were +850 last week and have officially shrunken to +800 — but, thanks to an odds boost promotion, can be had temporarily for +900.
When it comes to prices to win the NBA title, however, the Sixers’ numbers have gone up almost across the board.
Last week at FOX Bet, the Sixers were +1800 with a boost to +2200. Now +2200 is their unboosted price, and there’s a boost to +2500.
At DraftKings, they’re up from +2000 to +2500. At FanDuel, the payout has jumped from +2000 to a bettor-friendly +2700. Only Caesars, where they were an industry-best +2500 last week, has the Sixers’ number stayed the same.
The whole is less than the sum of its parts
The odds reflect the product on the court. The 76ers are the sixth seed in the East right now, they have the 12th-best record in the NBA, and that accurately represents how they’ve played this year.
With Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, and Al Horford all on the roster, not to mention solid talent in Josh Richardson, Milton, and Matisse Thybulle, it’s no wonder why experts pegged them as a top-two team in the East before the season and why they were a popular longshot pick heading into the resumption. But the pieces continue not to fit. Starting Milton and bringing Horford off the bench hasn’t been the magic elixir. Embiid — who’s casually dropped 68 points in these two days — still frequently plays too far from the basket. Simmons still refuses to shoot from outside the paint (we hope you haven’t been falling for the “over 0.5 three-pointers made” sucker bet) and coach Brett Brown hasn’t figured out whether the 6’10” Aussie is a point guard, power forward, neither, or both.
The individual talent is undeniable. So is how ugly it is watching these Sixers play together. It’s like having Will Ferrell, Eddie Murphy, and Kate McKinnon all in the same SNL cast and the writers giving us a 10-minute Doug and Wendy Whiner sketch.
But, with these particular Sixers, in this particular season … does any of it matter?
Their record in these eight restart games is all but meaningless. They can’t slip below the sixth seed, and while they could conceivably climb to fourth or fifth, there’s arguably no benefit to doing so. There’s no real home-court advantage in the playoffs, since there are no fans at any of these COVID-era games. As it stands now, the 3-6 matchup would pit them against the Boston Celtics, a team they went 3-1 against this season. They could move up and face the Miami Heat — a team they’re 1-3 against — or the Indiana Pacers — a team they lost to on Saturday to fall to 1-3 against.
For the Sixers, these eight games are purely about shaking off rust, finding chemistry, and, possibly, playing for pride.
Defining a “longshot”
Coming out of the hiatus, the 76ers were an attractive longshot bet because of their overall talent and their obvious high ceiling. On that front, nothing has changed, despite how discombobulated they’ve looked through two games.
The Toronto Raptors, for example, are a team you might bet because of their consistency and likelihood of playing good basketball every time out. At no point this season has that been a part of the Sixers’ appeal.
The fans and media love to overreact to a single game. They do it in every sport — some popular podcaster will bury you one night and then pretend he never doubted you the next. When last year’s playoffs began for the Sixers with a stunning Game 1 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, most of Twitter and the instant-analysis talking heads were writing their eulogy. The 76ers swept the next four games, winning by an average of 16 points.
One ugly defeat to a decent Indiana squad and one near-defeat to a sub-standard Spurs team might move us emotionally, but logically, those games don’t change anything. These Sixers remain a deeply flawed team that could go on a run and find a way to win the title. There’s no penalty when placing longshot title bets for picking a team that loses in the first round. There’s also no reward for picking a team that grinds its way to a respectable showing and a loss in the conference finals.
If you’re looking for a way to take advantage of this boom-or-bust team’s bust potential, FOX Bet has some intriguing head-to-heads posted on playoff finishing position (with bets voided if the two teams are eliminated in the same round). Here are the Philly matchups available:
|Celtics -133||76ers +110|
|76ers -118||Rockets -105|
|Lakers -250||76ers +180|
|76ers -118||Heat -105|
If you believe the Sixers are more likely than not to get bumped in the first round, you can pound all four of those opponents.
And you could simultaneously bet on them at 27/1 at FanDuel to win the championship as a hedge of sorts. As the longshot contender they are, you don’t have to believe this mess of a 76ers team will win the 2020 NBA title. You simply have to believe they can.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann / USA Today Sports