In a season that saw an increase in injuries due to its condensed nature, health has been the most important factor for the teams currently chasing a title. Denver learned that the hard way in the Western Conference semifinals, getting swept in unceremonious fashion by Phoenix on Sunday. The loss of Jamal Murray proved to be too much to overcome, and the Suns romped through four games by an average margin of 15.75 points per game. If a team is going to win a title, its stars must be healthy, which means Brooklyn’s title hopes are on life support with the most recent injury to Kyrie Irving.
Irving injured his ankle when landing on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s foot in the second quarter of the Nets’ 107-96 loss on Sunday, and never returned to the game. According to ESPN’s Malika Andrews, X-rays were negative and Irving had to leave the arena on crutches with a boot on the injured ankle. With fellow superstar James Harden already sidelined with a hamstring injury, Brooklyn finds itself on thin ice back at home for Game 5 -- and the market has turned on the Nets.
As of this morning, DraftKings has Milwaukee as a -129 series favorite, an implied probability of 56.3%, despite facing two of three on the road against Brooklyn. Durant showed the potential of the Nets with him on his own, dropping 16 points in the third quarter, but he ultimately finished with 28 points on only 9-of-25 shooting. During the regular season, the Nets outscored opponents by 14.4 points per 100 possessions in the minutes that Durant played without Irving and Harden. However, regular-season basketball is obviously much different than postseason hoops. Durant might be capable of stealing a game on his own, but winning a title and series without Harden or Irving on the floor will be a nearly impossible task.
Updated odds for every game can be found here.
Updated injury reports for every game can be found here.
Philadelphia 76ers (-3, 225.5) at Atlanta Hawks
It is very clear up to this point in the series that the Hawks have no answer for Joel Embiid and the 76ers’ offense. Philadelphia is averaging 123.0 points every 100 possessions, and Embiid has put up 35.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game on 53.0% shooting from the floor. There is no chance Embiid will be slowed by anyone on the Hawks’ roster, so Atlanta must focus on shutting down the pieces around him ... and that is not happening.
As great as Trae Young has been, he is still a poor defender. Nate McMillan has tried to hide him on Seth Curry on most defensive possessions, but that has led to Curry averaging 18 points on 59.6% shooting from deep in this series. Tobias Harris has cooked this defense, too, to the tune of 21.3 PPG on 60.6% shooting from the floor. The poor performance of this defense begins down low with Embiid, and spirals out from there. With De’Andre Hunter done for the rest of the season, this defense is not getting much better, which means bettors need Atlanta’s offense to shoulder the load, something easier said than done.
Over the last two games, the Hawks have been outscored by 17.1 points per 100 possessions due mainly to an offense that has been held to a 109.2 efficiency rating. Philadelphia has snuffed out Atlanta’s offense along the perimeter, limiting it to 32.1% on 53 attempts over the last two games. If the Hawks are going to even this series, it has to start with the shooting. Trae Young is just 8-of-24 from deep against Philadelphia and Danilo Gallinari is hitting just 35.2% of his 3-point attempts. Young is a high-volume shooter and at eight attempts per game, he is doing more harm by shooting such a low percentage from the perimeter. Fewer attempts for him and more for the likes of Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kevin Huerter or John Collins would be a fantastic adjustment for the young point guard, but even then the 76ers’ perimeter defense will be tough to crack.
The market has responded to all of these factors, and after closing Philadelphia -1.5 for Game 3, the 76ers opened -3 at most shops for today. The 76ers have dominated this series since the second half of Game 1, outscoring Atlanta by a total of 48 points over the course of those six quarters. We’re getting close to the realm of overcorrection by the market with this number, but we might not be there yet. Oddsmakers seem to have made home court worth 2.5 points in this postseason, meaning Philadelphia would be -8 at home with a power rating of this strength. Personally, I believe this to be the correct number for the 76ers and find no real value in the side. If it goes higher though, there will be some real value on the Hawks.
Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Clippers (-5, 223.5)
Los Angeles has to be feeling as good as a team that is down 2-1 in its series can right now, after blowing out Utah on Saturday night. The Clippers finally got Paul George and Kawhi Leonard on the same page, as the two stars combined for 65 points on 26-of-48 shooting from the floor. The surrounding pieces finally woke up as well. Nic Batum, Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard combined to shoot 11-of-16 from the perimeter, Terance Mann played 22 minutes while posting a + 21 and Ty Lue finally committed to a small-ball lineup that opened up the offense for Los Angeles. It is no surprise that the Clippers took the most attempts within four feet of the hoop in Game 3, and that is something that could continue here tonight.
Utah has not really slowed down on offense, either. In the series, they are shooting 42.1% on 44.3 3-point attempts per game and Donovan Mitchell is averaging 37.3 PPG on 50.3% shooting from the floor. Jordan Clarkson, after shooting 32.3% from deep in the second half and 23.8% against Memphis, is hitting 51.3% of his 3-point shots. Joe Ingles is averaging 15.3 points on 44.0% shooting from the perimeter. Yet, the Jazz have a -4.2 net rating in non-garbage time minutes in this series despite holding a 2-1 edge. Quietly, their defense has not contained the Clippers, allowing them to average 1.227 points per possession in this series. Are we entirely sure that Utah has the grip on this series most believe they do?
The betting market clearly believes Los Angeles is the better team. The Jazz closed -3 and -2.5 in Games 1 and 2, but on Saturday it was the Clippers laying 4.5 points at home. They opened at -5 today for very good reason. Should Los Angeles even this series tonight -- which I believe they will -- we could very well see the Clippers as slight road favorites on Wednesday night. Until then, there is little value in laying a number that is right where it should be.