Injuries take center stage yet again in the NBA and now it is Joel Embiid that is ailing. Embiid missed the final three quarters of the 76ers’ loss to the Wizards on Monday night, and his status for this series is in question. Philadelphia is outscored by 1.1 points per 100 possessions without Embiid on the floor, and they are much more vulnerable without him. We have no idea what the long-term prognosis is on Embiid’s health, but safe to say many in Philadelphia are holding their breath.
Updated odds for every game can be found here.
Updated injury reports for every game can be found here.
Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets (-12.5, 231.5)
The narrative around Brooklyn will always come back to its defense, but the Boston Celtics need to find their own answer on that end of the floor it they’re to keep their slim title hopes alive. Through four games in this series the Nets are averaging 131.6 points per 100 possessions in non-garbage time minutes. The Celtics have no answer for the question Brooklyn’s big three represent, and that was clear on Sunday when James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant combined for 104 points. Now, Robert Williams and Kemba Walker are likely going to miss their second game of this series, and Jayson Tatum is set to shoulder load on his own once more.
To Tatum’s credit he has answered the call, as futile as his efforts have been. Tatum has totaled 90 points over 81 minutes in the last two games for Boston, and his scoring, coupled with his team’s inability to even inconvenience the Nets’ scoring trio, has led to three consecutive Overs in this series. Betting his point total prop over has cashed each of the past two games, but now that has inflated to as high as 33.5 at DraftKings, which is quite the price to pay. Can we guarantee the full effort from Tatum when it is clear that this game, and this series, is all but over?
Walker and Williams missing this game is clearly why Brooklyn is laying this massive number. When Boston is playing without Jaylen Brown, Walker and Williams this season it is outscored by 5.1 points per 100 possessions. Those lineups have no real consistency on offense, outside of Tatum, and when those non-Tatum minutes arrive they will get ugly. Without him and the other three on the floor the Celtics have a -12.9 net rating. Statistically, it is hard to make a case for Boston here, but an elite scorer like Tatum can make up for a lot and keep the Celtics in this. Bettors just need 30 or more from him to do it.
Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets (-1.5, 226)
Through four games both of these teams have shown an ability to take advantage of the other’s defense, but the Trail Blazers have the edge with a + 2.6 net rating. Portland’s backcourt edge has been on full display in this series. The Trail Blazers have taken 40.1% of their attempts from the perimeter while shooting 42.4% on those shots. In both of its victories this series Portland has won the battle from 3-point range, making 10 more 3-pointers than Denver in non-garbage time. The perimeter was always going to be a massive key to the winner of this series, and it has been clear that if the Nuggets are not going to shoot the ball well they cannot win this series.
Denver has gone 21-of-70 (30.0%) in their two losses to Portland and 31-of-61 (50.8%) in the two victories. It’s clear the shooting for Denver has been volatile but their downfall in Portland has been the sudden inability to generate offense inside the arc. Over the last two games in this series the Nuggets, which shot 78.9% at the rim in Games 1 and 2, have hit only 52.7% of those attempts. When the 3-point shooting fell off in Game 4 it led to an ugly deficit and a tied series.
This game comes down to what happens when Jusuf Nurkic is on and off the floor. Portland is -43 in his bench minutes this series, and he leads Portland with a + 53 in his minutes on the floor. Both games that Denver won, Nurkic was watching the final minutes play out from the bench, as he had fouled out. It is not a coincidence that Terry Stotts matched up his minutes with Nikola Jokic in Game 4 and the Nuggets posted their worst offensive numbers of the series.
Jokic might seem like the key to this series, but Denver needs more from the other pieces. Michael Porter Jr. is averaging 15.3 points in this series, but has only one 20 point game. Aaron Gordon is only averaging 12 points on 40.3% shooting from the floor. Jokic needs more from them, and Denver needs to take advantage of the non-Nurkic minutes in this game to take a commanding series lead.
Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns (-4.5, 208.5)
It seems very likely that Anthony Davis will not be on the floor tonight, but LeBron James will at least have Kentavious Caldwell-Pope by his side when the Lakers look to avoid a 3-2 series deficit in Phoenix. If Davis misses this game not all is lost for Los Angeles, but obviously the role players will need to step up when James is not on the floor. In the regular season, when James was on the floor without Davis, the Lakers outscored their opponents by 7.1 points per 100 possessions. Those lineups ranked in the 94th percentile of defensive efficiency and it is not crazy to believe that those lineups could provide a similar output on defense. The problem for Los Angeles will be when James hits the bench. In those minutes the Lakers were outscored by 3.1 points per 100 possessions and they managed an offensive rating of 106.1. Without Davis those minutes have the potential to get ugly for Los Angeles.
Phoenix has been solid on defense despite the issues with its offense and Chris Paul. The Lakers have averaged just 105.4 points per 100 possessions in this series, and in halfcourt situations their offensive rating of 88.2 is the second-worst rate of the currently active playoff teams. The problem is that the Suns have the worse offensive efficiency mark in halfcourt situations (87.3). If Phoenix is going to take advantage of Anthony Davis’ absence their offensive output has to be better. Phoenix has been great at the rim, but the best mid-range team in the regular season has shot just 38.5% from that area of the floor. Much of that has to do with Chris Paul’s health, but Paul looked much healthier in Game 4 and if that is real the Suns have a real chance to take their third victory in this series.
My strategy here is going to be to look for a discount on Phoenix once this game begins. When LeBron is out on the floor there is a possibility this game is much tighter than the pre-flop number indicates. However, those James minutes on the bench clearly provide an opportunity for the Suns to extend a lead. I would expect a solid start from Los Angeles and will be looking for a discount on Phoenix when LeBron takes a seat