With Or Without Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers Are Favored To Make NBA Eastern Conference Finals

Written By Dave Bontempo on June 4, 2021

So much for the appetizer. Philadelphia 76ers fans are hungry for the main course.

They chanted “We Want Brooklyn” Wednesday night as their team devoured the Washington Wizards like a first-round playoff hors d’oeuvre.

That wish will be granted if the Sixers dispatch the Atlanta Hawks and the Nets subdue the Milwaukee Bucks in respective second-round series’.

Both teams, who scorched their opening-round playoff rivals in five games, start round two at home this weekend.

The Sixers host the Hawks Sunday.  And the Nets, who throttled the Boston Celtics in round one, host the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.

NJ sports betting customers along with New Jersey-New York fans have expected a Nets-Sixers playoff summit for a couple of months. Full crowds. Mobile apps blazing. Talk shows in full throttle.

But take a look at line movement for the last couple of days. The sportsbooks have thrown the Sixers some shade.

What are NJ online sportsbooks saying about Philadelphia 76ers?

Although the Sixers gained the top seed in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, their star has dimmed at William Hill sportsbook.

The Nets odds are -140 to win the conference. The Bucks are second at +250.

The Sixers, who finished ahead of both teams in the regular season and were +325 last week, slipped to +500. Trace the 76ers odds movement to the mystery of Joel Embiid. The team’s top player, who averaged nearly 29 points and more than 10 rebounds per game, only played in 51 of 72 regular-season contests.

And he’s banged up again.

Embiid has a lateral meniscus tear, sustained in an awkward landing from an attempted shot in Game 4, but is expected to return early in the series against the Hawks.

How early? The books imply “not in game one”.

The Sixers drifted down to -2.5 at DraftKings Sportsbook on Thursday for the first game, with odds reflecting the belief Embiid won’t start. If the line moves up, especially to the -5 or -6 range, oddsmakers will think he plays.

The over-under of 220.5 across most books is lower than the teams’ combined scoring average of 227.

Philadelphia also shifted downward in the series odds, from -215 to -200 at NJ online sportsbooks on Thursday. Oddsmakers are factoring Embiid’s health into the equation.

How much Embiid do the Sixers, who are 11-11 without him, need in this series?

Philadelphia 76ers-Atlanta Hawks regular season recap

Compare Sunday’s skinny spread to Philadelphia’s best back-to-back games of the seasons. The Sixers throttled the Hawks 127-83 on April 28 at home. A 44-point whupping.

Embiid played limited minutes in that one. Two nights later, they scorched the Hawks 126-104. A 22-point blowout. And he didn’t play.

The Sixers walloped the Hawks by 66 points in two games, (the Hawks won one game 112-94) yet the playoff spread suggests parity. Surprising even more because full crowds extend the homecourt edge Philadelphia enjoys through the conference finals.

It’s hard to picture the Sixers beating the Nets without Embiid.

But they might beat the Hawks.

 Theories on Embiid

Embiid’s absence forced other players to mature.

In   Wednesday’s 129-112 clincher against the Wizards, Ben Simmons produced a triple-double with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists. Seth Curry delivered 30 points after Simmons challenged Curry and “demanded” he score 30 in this game (maybe Simmons should just order up 50 from Curry).

Tobias Harris delivered 28 points against the Wizards and nine rebounds. Is this something to count on?

In the first playoff round, Harris led the team in scoring with a 25-point average. Simmons had 10 points and nine assists, stepping up in the post-season stage.

Johnny Avello, the director of race and sportsbook operations for DraftKings, expounded on the Embiid factor for Play NJ.

“You have to be healthy for these playoffs,” Avello said. “You may want to rest a start player to get through a series, but you have to be careful. You may not get to the next round.  The Sixers are in some trouble because Embiid has a few issues.”

NBA betting handle is ‘better than ever’

While Sixers bettors seek an edge, league-wide gambling bursts at the DraftKings seams, according to Avello.

He said the handle is “better than ever.”

“In-game wagering, the futures, and the normal spread betting have been tremendous. The NBA takes precedence for us right now and there have been some interesting angles,” said Avello.

“The Nets (the season-long futures frontrunner) are still a hazard for us.”

Avello added the Lakers would have been a hazard too.

LeBron James and company, the defending NBA champions,  were eliminated by the Phoenix Suns Thursday night and were long considered the second favorite to win it all. They were overbet most of the year, keeping the Sixers’ odds up.

“We have some liability on the Hawks too, believe it or not,” Avello said about the Sixers’ next opponent. “One bettor (Colorado) put $20,000 down on them at 50-1, so that would be $1 million.  The bettor took the Hawks to win the East too.”

That would entail beating the Sixers.

A closer look at the Young, Capela, and the Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta has a great outside presence in Trae Young and an excellent rebounder in Clint Capela.

Young, a prolific shooter, delivered 27 and 31 points in the last two Atlanta victories over the New York Knicks.

His efforts augmented a strong defense that held the Knicks under 100 points for three consecutive games. The fifth-place Hawks finished the regular season just behind the fourth-place Knicks but opened as slight series favorites across the sportsbooks. The projection was correct.

Capela has been an inside force for Atlanta. He led the league in rebounds with more than 14 per game.

Props on Young and Capela could entice gamblers.

So will side wagers on Howard, Curry, Simmons, or Harris when Embiid does not play. It’s hard to predict the potential hot hand if Embiid sits, but there is a money-making opportunity if one can sense who picks up the slack.

When Embiid plays, who knows what you can trust? His props will be risky because the Sixers may try to stretch out his games by curtailing some minutes.




Photo by AP/Matt Slocum
Dave Bontempo Avatar
Written by
Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo, a multiple national award-winning boxing commentator and writer, authors NFL betting columns for the Press of Atlantic City and others. He writes about all major sports in the booming legal New Jersey sports betting industry. Dave also hosts the Why Eagles Why podcast. Dave is a member of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame and the Atlantic City International Boxing Hall of Fame.

View all posts by Dave Bontempo