The 76ers’ reward for finishing with the best regular-season record in the Eastern Conference is a postseason bracket that fell favorably, with no chance of meeting the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, or Miami Heat until the conference finals.
But it also shook out in such a manner that in the opening round, starting for them at 1:05 p.m. Sunday, the Sixers will have to square off against one of the two hottest teams in the entire league.
By virtue of their blowout play-in win Thursday night over the Indiana Pacers, the Washington Wizards have earned the 8th seed — a tremendous accomplishment considering that through 49 games of the COVID-shortened 72-game season, the Wiz were a pitiful 17-32, seemingly headed toward the draft lottery and major regrets over acquiring Russell Westbrook.
But with Westbrook healthier and regaining his form as a triple-double machine, Washington went 17-6 from April 7 to the end of the season. It won more games than any other team in the NBA during that stretch and posted the second-highest winning percentage, behind only the New York Knicks.
So are the Sixers in danger of an unceremonious — frankly, it would be downright disastrous in the eyes of the fan base — first-round exit?
A closer look at the particulars of the Wizards’ hot streak, the Sixers’ own late-season play, and the matchup between the two teams — as well as the betting odds at PA’s legal sportsbooks — suggests there isn’t much threat here.
Hit on soft 17?
Here’s the thing about Washington’s 17-6 run: Against playoff-bound teams, the Wizards went just 4-5. And that counts two wins over the Golden State Warriors, who will find out if they’re a playoff team in Friday night’s final play-in game; should the Warriors lose to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Wizards would be a mere 2-5 vs. playoff teams. Either way, the point is their hot streak mostly came at the expense of the NBA’s doormats.
The Sixers, meanwhile, did not exactly limp across the finish line. Philly went 14-6 over its final 20 games, despite Ben Simmons missing six of those contests and Joel Embiid sitting out three of them.
And perhaps most importantly, the 76ers won all three head-to-head meetings between the teams this year.
To be fair, all three came before Washington started to heat up. And the first two were close. In the opening game of the season, when the calendar still read 2020, the Sixers rallied from 10 down at the start of the fourth quarter to win 113-107. Just two weeks later, Bradley Beal went off for a franchise-record-tying 60 points and the 76ers prevailed in a 141-136 slugfest. Finally, on March 12, in the game in which Embiid injured his knee — in retrospect, the moment that made Nikola Jokic the MVP — the Sixers, despite Simmons sitting out, crushed the Wizards, 127-101.
So the Sixers are 3-0 vs. Washington this year, but only 1-2 against the spread. In fact, when Game 1 tips off, it will mark the 10th straight time the 76ers have been favored in this matchup — though the Wizards have covered the spread as ‘dogs in five of the previous nine.
76ers by 7 or 6½
The amount the 76ers are favored by on Sunday is right in their name. Every PA mobile sportsbook has them at -7 with the exception of FanDuel, which makes the Sixers 6.5-point favorites (with -114 juice, vs. -106 juice on the Washington side). If you’re going to accept the risk of the extra half-point for the home team, FOX Bet is the place to bet Philly -7, as that side is +100 (vs. -118 on the Wiz +7).
The most bettor-friendly moneyline price on the Sixers in Game 1 is -260 at Caesars PA. The other sportsbooks have them between -270 and -300. If you like the Wizards to score the upset in the opener, TwinSpires (formerly BetAmerica) has an industry-best +245 price.
As for the total points, most books have it at 229½, with a few 229 outliers. In their three meetings this year, the Wizards and Sixers averaged 241.67 combined points, but that number is skewed by the wild Beal-for-60 game; two of their three contests would have gone under a line of 229 or 229½.
As for the full series, as of 11:30 a.m. Friday, even though Wizards-Pacers had ended more than 12 hours earlier, only one of the major online sportsbooks in Pennsylvania had posted odds on who would advance — and a limited menu at that.
That book is FOX Bet, which has Philadelphia as -1000 favorites to win the seven-game series and Washington as a +600 underdog. PointsBet, which is not yet active in the Keystone State but is available to Sixers fans in New Jersey, has the exact same series prices. So it’s reasonable to assume DraftKings, FanDuel, etc., will land in this same ballpark.
FOX Bet also has one special bet available, boosting the odds on a Sixers four-game sweep from a purported unboosted price of +333 to +400. Can they go from 3-0 vs. Washington this season to 7-0?
The highest prices on the 76ers to win the Eastern Conference are holding steady at +300 (multiple books), and their highest championship odds are +800 via FanDuel.