In previous weeks, I have bemoaned the numerous injuries and the effect they have had on this year’s NBA playoffs. Finally, the injuries seem to have stopped, and teams have returned to full strength — (checks notes) oh, perhaps not. Kyrie Irving, Donovan Mitchell, Serge Ibaka ... I give up. Maybe I should just list the players who are healthy. As someone who has a futures ticket on the Sixers to win the East, the injuries hit home Monday night as Joel Embiid, who was diagnosed with a torn meniscus two weeks ago, looked for the first time like an injured player. He went 0-for-12 from the field and lacked the athleticism that makes him so unstoppable. On that grim note, let’s get to the picks for Wednesday night’s games in two series tied 2-2.
Hawks + 7 over Sixers
I jumped on this as soon as it opened, as I expect it to move with a flood of Hawks money I anticipate will come in. It’s simple: It’s about Embiid and the uncertainty regarding his knee. If he can’t play or isn’t close to 100%, these teams are fairly even, and the points are clearly the play. With only one day off between games, I suspect Embiid will look much like he did Monday night, and this game will come down to the wire. I expect this to close at 6, maybe even 5.5 due to concern over the MVP runner-up. Embiid is the difference between these teams. His strength is too much for anyone on the Hawks to handle, and his ability to create double teams leaves the Hawks vulnerable to open shooters behind the arc. Without that dominant presence, the Sixers will need the home crowd to carry them and for their role players to play well if they want to regain control of the series. I suspect the Sixers will win a close game, but I am confident in my + 7 position.
Clippers + 3 over Jazz
It seems as if the Clippers finally figured out in Game 3 what many have known: You can’t challenge Rudy Gobert at the basket. The way to attack him is not with a center — it’s with five shooters on the floor and a small-ball lineup that takes the defensive player of the year away from the hoop, which then opens up the offense’s ability to attack. The Clippers scorched the Jazz in both games at Staples Center to even the series and could have won either game in Utah. The Clippers gave up every asset that wasn’t nailed down to acquire Paul George, then signed Kawhi Leonard. This is their time, and I believe they simply possess more high-end talent than the Jazz. Getting a few points with the more talented team in what seems like a toss-up game is the side I am on. The Clippers look to erase a 2-0 series deficit for the second consecutive series, and I think they are the title favorites if they get out of this series. Take the Clips + 3.