There are a lot of “ifs” standing between the 76ers and a deep NBA playoff run. If Joel Embiid can stay healthy. If aggressive-on-offense Ben Simmons shows up. If the perimeter shooters newly acquired this season continue to shoot well. If the Sixers can avoid having to march through a gauntlet of the Eastern Conference’s toughest teams.
By securing the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time in 20 years, winning 10 of their last 12 to finish 49-23, these Sixers seem to have already checked off that last box.
Four years of blatant “tanking” (amplified in some spots by injuries) paved the way for the last four seasons in a row of reaching the playoffs, peaking (so far) with this year’s run to the best record in the East. But given the Sixers’ playoff struggles — a disappointing five-game loss to a depleted Boston Celtics squad in 2018, the quadruple-doink elimination in the second round in 2019, and a first-round sweep in the Orlando “bubble” last year — fans are rightfully worried about it all coming undone prematurely once the postseason begins.
Those worries of another early exit should be diminished now that the playoff brackets are finalized.
And the Sixers, who can still be found as high as +300 at Pennsylvania online sportsbooks to win the conference and at up to +800 to seize the franchise’s first NBA title in 38 years, are looking like decent betting value for anyone who’s OK with the other assorted “ifs” listed above.
No Nets, no Bucks, no Heat
There are two Eastern Conference foes the Sixers most wanted to avoid if possible.
One was the Brooklyn Nets, who finished just one game behind Philly, are the betting favorites to win it all this year, and are theoretically frightening, at least on offense. That’s if Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving are all healthy at once and can quickly jell.
The other was the Milwaukee Bucks, who won the Central Division and are a more complete team than they were the past two years, thanks to the addition of point guard Jrue Holiday.
Well, with the Sixers finishing first and Brooklyn and Milwaukee seeded second and third, both teams will be avoided until the conference finals — while the Nets and Bucks will likely have to go through each other.
The other team Sixers fans aren’t eager to see is the Miami Heat, who reached the NBA finals last season. Miami was a potential second-round opponent if it finished seeded fourth or fifth — but in the end the Heat landed sixth, meaning they’re Milwaukee’s problem in the opening round.
The 76ers await whatever team comes out of the play-in games with the eighth seed. Whether that’s the Celtics, Washington Wizards, Indiana Pacers, or Charlotte Hornets won’t be known until Thursday night. But the Sixers, who went a combined 11-1 against those opponents this year, will be a huge favorite against whomever they draw.
From there, Philly gets the winner of the New York Knicks vs. Atlanta Hawks. They swept the Knicks this season and might have swept the Hawks if not for playing them during a January stretch when half the Philly roster was out due to COVID-19 protocols.
Bottom line: Anything short of a trip to the conference finals this year would be a disaster in the eyes of Sixers fans.
3/1 to get to the finals, 8/1 to win it all
Despite their much clearer path and better regular-season performance, the Sixers are given the same chance as Milwaukee of winning the East at many PA sportsbooks. The books using odds provided by Kambi — DraftKings, BetRivers, Barstool, Unibet, and so on — have both teams at +300. BetMGM has that same price for the Sixers, with the Bucks a bit higher at +375. FOX Bet offers a more optimistic (but less bettor-friendly) +275 on the Sixers, and FanDuel has Embiid and company at just +260 to capture the conference title.
The Nets, meanwhile, are anywhere from -110 to +120. It’s an unusual season, as several teams that limped along during the regular season are considered favorites based on pedigree.
If the Sixers should reach the NBA finals, it’s anybody’s guess who their opponent will be. The L.A. Lakers aren’t even officially in the playoffs yet. Reasonable cases can be made for them, the L.A. Clippers, the Utah Jazz, the Phoenix Suns, the Denver Nuggets, the Dallas Mavericks, and maybe even the Portland Trail Blazers going on a run to the finals.
That’s a lot of uncertainty to account for before betting on the Sixers to win it all. Interestingly, FanDuel has a higher payout on a 76ers title than the Kambi books — +800, compared to +700. FOX Bet also has the Sixers at 8/1, while BetMGM pegs them at +750.
At least through the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Sixers will have home-court advantage every series. That’s big, because they played .806 ball at home and .556 ball on the road this season, and also because fans are back at the Wells Fargo Center. Until May 7, only 15% capacity was allowed, but that’s now up to 25%, with the potential to keep increasing during the NBA playoffs.