The first round of the NBA postseason is upon us. With 72 games in the book for every team, we have large enough sample sizes to distinguish every team’s strengths and weaknesses. Matchups are extremely important when it comes to handicapping the NBA postseason, and teams will work to exploit those weaknesses of a team much more in a best-of-seven series than you would see in a single regular-season matchup.
Personally, I believe these numbers and statistics have much more value in the postseason than they do in the regular season. It is hard for a team to imprint its style on a single game in the regular season. There could be a poor shooting night, or some plain old bad luck. But when the opponent is the same for the course of a series, a team can usually press that advantage.
Without further ado, here are my betting previews for every NBA first-round series.
Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook, as of Friday afternoon.
No. 1 Philadelphia 76ers (-1250) vs. No. 8 Washington Wizards (+ 730)
Washington put a bow on its incredible regular-season run with a win over Indiana and a berth in the Eastern Conference playoffs. However, now it must face the elite defense of Philadelphia in a best-of-seven series, and it’s hard to find where Washington’s offense is going to come from. The 76ers went 3-0 SU/1-2 ATS against the Wizards this season with a + 11.2 net rating (all three games were played prior to April, though).
The 76ers finished the season with the third-best defense in non-garbage time minutes, allowing only 108.2 points per 100 possessions. That unit only got better in the second half of the season, limiting its final 36 opponents to 106.3 points per 100 possessions, a full 6.8 points better than league average. Philadelphia is an opportunistic defense that is stellar along the perimeter and at the rim. The 76ers finished with the third-best defensive turnover rate (15.3%) while allowing opponents to shoot just 63.5% within four feet and 36.7% from deep.
Washington has been spectacular over these last 26 games to get to this series, but it has not been due to an elite offense. In fact, the Wizards have been quite average on that end of the floor during this run. They rank 13th in offensive efficiency (115.8) in non-garbage time minutes, 10th in rim shooting (66.5%) and 11th in 3-point shooting (38.0%), and a majority of their offense is generated inside the arc. They ranked 14th in frequency of attempts at the rim to close the regular season and second in frequency of mid-range attempts (41.2%). Those are areas of the floor in which the 76ers thrive defensively, especially when Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are both on the floor.
Washington got here with a defense that allowed just 111.4 points per 100 possessions over the final 24 games of the regular season. They did so by thriving at the rim and beyond the arc: The Wizards gave up the second-fewest attempts at the rim during their run to end the regular season and the fourth-fewest perimeter shots. Their game plan resulted in Washington ranking 30th in frequency of mid-range shots allowed, but in today’s game teams prefer their opponents to take those shots -- and it worked for the most part. The Wizards allowed opponents to shoot just 34.9% from deep and they finished eighth in opponent effective field goal percentage (53.2%). However, there were two massive flaws with their defense.
The first was that despite allowing the second-fewest attempts at the rim, opponents to shot an insane 67.7% within four feet. The second, was that as they allowed mid-range shots, they went in! Opponents not only took the most mid-range shots against Washington, but they hit the fifth-highest percent of them (45%). Those mid-range numbers are especially troubling when you realize Philadelphia ranks fifth in frequency of mid-range shots (36.5%), fourth in mid-range shooting (45.1%) and has an elite mid-range scorer in Embiid.