Opening Price (via DraftKings): Philadelphia 76ers (-900) Brooklyn Nets (+550)
In a cruel twist of fate the basketball gods gave us Philadelphia and Brooklyn in a playoff series, but it carries none of the narrative weight it once did. Instead, we get a series which should carry little drama for Philadelphia on its path to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The betting market is very low on this iteration of the Nets, but the real reason behind this massive series price on the 76ers is Joel Embiid.
Brooklyn has no one on this roster capable of defending Embiid on a possession to possession basis. Nicolas Claxton is a fine defender at center, but there is a 65-pound difference between him and Embiid. In the lone meeting of consequence between these two versions of Brooklyn and Philadelphia on Feb. 11 the Nets consistently sent double teams at Embiid in order to get the ball out of his hands. That strategy did not work. In 37 minutes Embiid scored 37 points on 12-of-18 shooting from the floor, and he got to the free throw line 13 times. The Nets do not have much depth at center either, so the 6-foot-9 Day’Ron Sharpe will likely have a go at defending Embiid as well should Claxton get into foul trouble, which has a high probability of happening in this series.
Philadelphia’s offense is hardly just a one-man show though, and that is where this gap really starts to grow.
Embiid and James Harden have formed a dynamic offensive duo in their short time together. When both are on the floor together the 76ers average 122.4 points per 100 possessions while making 30.8 free throws every 100 shot attempts. Their offensive output was maximized when Tyrese Maxey reclaimed his spot in the starting lineup at the beginning of March, and since that move Philadelphia has led the league in non-garbage time offensive efficiency (123.7). Those figures spell trouble for Brooklyn, which has struggled defensively with this new roster.
The Nets are just 17th in non-garbage time defensive efficiency since the trade deadline. Opponents have put up 115.8 points per 100 possessions over that span, and their halfcourt defense has allowed 100.2 points per 100 plays. Those Harden and Embiid lineups happen to rank in the 97th percentile of lineups in halfcourt offensive efficiency (107.7), and 83.0% of their plays in the regular season came in a halfcourt setting, meaning that Philadelphia will test Brooklyn’s biggest defensive weakness.
Still, there are some strengths to the Nets’ defense where their personnel does shine. The problem is that their best defensive asset is one that will not come into play much in this series: transition defense.
Brooklyn actually leads the league in overall defensive efficiency in transition (113.5), and opponents have added just 0.7 points per 100 possessions through transition offense against it. Specifically, off live rebounds the Nets have allowed only 108.7 points per 100 plays since the trade deadline. In the possessions without Embiid on the floor Brooklyn will be able to defend well when Philadelphia runs, but those possessions happen so infrequently that it should hardly make a difference in this series.
Speaking of hardly making a difference, let’s talk about the Nets’ offense.
One of the biggest weaknesses of this newly constructed roster is the lack of offensive creators. Spencer Dinwiddie is a starting lead guard, but there are not many others on this roster that can create for themselves and others. Those shortcomings have led to Brooklyn ranking 23rd in non-garbage time offensive efficiency (113.8) since the trade deadline. The team only takes 29.0% of its attempts within four feet of the basket, and they have become reliant on their shooting to carry them. In these 27 games Brooklyn has attempted 40.2% of their attempts from beyond the arc, but they shoot just 35.7% on those shots. A high-volume, low-efficiency shooting approach to offense has led to an extremely inefficient output on that end of the floor.
When Philadelphia replaced De’Anthony Melton in its starting lineup it sacrificed some of its defense for more offense, so there is a world in which Brooklyn does find some success here.
As previously mentioned, Dinwiddie can be a good scoring option. He’s drawn a shooting foul on 15.2% of his shot attempts as a Net this season, and he has assisted on 38.7% of his teammates’ made buckets. He can certainly break down lesser defenders like Maxey and Harden, and should have a successful series. The name to watch for Brooklyn on offense is Mikal Bridges.
Since coming over in the trade for Kevin Durant, Bridges has been the focal point of the Nets’ offense. His usage rate of 28.8% is by far a career-high, as are his 26.1 points per game in a Brooklyn uniform. However, that change in his role means that he will now be a focal point for Philadelphia’s game plan on defense, and it does mean facing different defenses on a nightly basis. It would not be a shock to see Bridges’ offensive production fall off now that he will face that, and a decent defender in PJ Tucker regularly.
Given the advantages that Philadelphia has in this series this price is accurate at -900 (90% implied probability). When there are massive series prices like that, bettors can find different ways to back a massive favorite if they feel there is value without swallowing a number like that. A bettor could tie themselves to the 76ers in exact series results, or by playing the total games prop, which is set at 5.5 over at DraftKings with a -160 price on the under.
The probability that Philadelphia ends this series in four or five games is higher by count than those prices would indicate. Laying -160 on this series to last fewer than five games would be the play for me from an overall series standpoint, but there is also a player prop angle to monitor in this series as well.
As mentioned earlier, Brooklyn is going to be sending a lot of double teams at Embiid to make up for their lack of size, which should mean quite a few assist opportunities for him. In the game on Feb. 11, Embiid only had two assists, but there were plenty of opportunities for shooters on his passes coming out of the post. For Game 1 the prop is 3.5 at -105 to the over, and at that price it’s an angle worth playing.
Bet Recommendation: Total Games Under 5.5 (-160)