Embiid, Sixers reboot for NBA playoffs

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Philadelphia got good news to open the week regarding Joel Embiid, who left Sunday’s loss to the Trail Blazers with an ankle injury.

The 76ers were due for something to go their way given all the tough breaks they’ve gotten since the NBA season resumed in the Orlando bubble late last month. Despite getting everyone excited by announcing Ben Simmons had been moved to power forward and looking dynamic in scrimmages, results had been mixed even before disaster struck. The 76ers dropped a pair of games despite scoring 121 points. They covered only one of their first five, but that’s truly the least of their problems going forward.

Simmons underwent surgery to repair loose bodies in his left knee after suffering a patella subluxation on Aug. 5. He wasn’t playing well when he went down but is one of basketball’s biggest matchup problems due to his size and skill set. It’s unlikely that he’ll recover in time to factor into Philadelphia’s playoff run. Whether its first-round opponent winds up being the Miami Heat, or more likely, arch rival Boston, an underdog role awaits.

The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook viewed the 76ers as a 2-1 choice to win the East when they released opening odds last July, second only behind Milwaukee. Last week, Philadelphia was 10-1 to win the East but they’ve since been downgraded to 15-1. The Westgate still had them as a live long shot to win the NBA title at 30-1. Their latest odds release now lists the 76ers at 60-1.

Some may see terrific value since Embiid avoided a catastrophe and should be fine to open the playoffs, the Sixers now lack a true playmaker. Even though Simmons had his limitations due to a reluctance to shoot from beyond the arc, his size and ability to run the floor generated easy baskets that kept the team from being bogged down in half-court sets. They’ve become a lot easier to defend.

Philly’s demise is great news for Miami, and it’s worth taking a shot on the Heat as a 12-1 bet to win the East. Jimmy Butler cooled off T.J. Warren on Monday as Miami beat the Pacers for a third time this season. It will be favored in any 4-5 matchup.

Butler is one of the few guys who relishes defending Giannis Antetokounmpo, while Bam Adebayo’s athleticism also makes him a worthy foil for the “Greek Freak,” who will be named the NBA’s MVP for a second straight year. The Bucks lost more games in their first six outings at Disney’s Wide World of Sports than they did in 31 contests as Fiserv Forum, where they went 28-3.

The Westgate listed the Bucks as a 5-7 choice to reach the Finals and 7-2 to win it all this week, and neither of those numbers look appealing. Milwaukee may right the ship with point guard Eric Bledsoe back from his bout with coronavirus and a healthy Antetokounmpo leading the way, but there’s no value in those figures.

The Heat, Raptors (11-2) and Celtics (5-1) look like better options.

Thursday

Suns vs. Mavericks: Look for the Suns to wrap up an amazing run in Orlando by blowing out the Mavs, who are expected to rest their regulars since they’ll be locked into the West’s No. 7 seed. Phoenix won four of its first six in the bubble by seven or more points. SUNS

Trail Blazers vs. Nets: Brooklyn surpassed everyone’s expectations by posting upset wins over the Bucks and Clippers as massive underdogs, which included cashing a money line that hovered around +1500 at most books as an 18.5-point ‘dog. Legendary.

The Nets beat out the Magic for the No. 7 spot as a result, avoiding Milwaukee in the first round. They’ll happily go out with a whimper against playoff hopeful Portland, likely resting starters Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris. Look for the Blazers to roll as a double-digit favorite. TRAIL BLAZERS

Friday

Heat vs. Pacers: My hunch in a Friday finale will be riding the Pacers. With Embiid in the mix, the 76ers remain a less attractive playoff matchup for Miami than Indiana. The Heat dropping this one would ensure the Pacers finish fifth, locking in that playoff pairing. They call this selective tanking, and it’s right up Miami’s alley. All is fair in love and the postseason. PACERS

Last week: 3-0

Season: 34-25-1

About the Author

Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia has been a national sportswriter for nearly two decades and has covered NBA and college basketball as a columnist, analyst, handicapper, and bracketologist for CBS Sports, Pro Basketball News, and numerous other sites.

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