How the 76ers matchup in Eastern Conference post James Harden trade
Following the NBA All Star Break, the Eastern Conference will be in a battle to find out the final seedings come playoff time. With around 25 games left in the regular season, the first and eighth seeds are currently separated by just 7.0 games in the standings.
The Philadelphia 76ers (+380) currently sit 2.5 games out of the top spot in the conference, which is good for third place. Their season will truly begin once they return to action, as they will start to integrate James Harden. With this addition, the 76ers have become one of the favorites to come out of the East. Here’s how they stack up against the favorites to come out of the Conference.
Brooklyn Nets (+280)
Forecasting this potential matchup is nearly impossible. For Brooklyn, Ben Simmons has yet to play this year, Kyrie Irving has only appeared in 14 games, and Kevin Durant has been sidelined with an injury for nearly two months with no timeline for a return. Despite this, they are the most likely team to emerge from their conference and compete for the championship.
On paper, the Nets are a great team. They have an unlimited amount of scoring, and now have a willing passer and elite defender. But when will the meshing begin and can it translate to postseason basketball?
In terms of how Brooklyn matches up with Philadelphia, they definitely create an array of difficulties for the Sixers, and vice versa. Durant and Irving are always a problem to defend, and Ben Simmons provides a quality defender and facilitator, so there is reason for concern.
Contrarily, James Harden and Joel Embiid are just as, if not more, effective scorers in comparison to the Nets’ duo. Even with the addition of Andre Drummond, their frontcourt is a turnstile that will be actively dominated by Embiid in a series. With the overlap in superstars, and the history between the players, this reborn rivalry should make for an incredible series if we get it.
Milwaukee Bucks (+330)
The second favorite to win the Eastern Conference is the defending champions, which is to be expected. After a slow start to the year, Milwaukee has found their rhythm again and look like true contenders. Even while in fifth place in the East right now, they still have the best betting chance to be playing in the finals again.
In the final game before the break, Joel Embiid and company marched into Milwaukee and took down the Bucks to tie the season series at one game a piece. The Sixers took full advantage of mismatches stemming from Milwaukee’s lack of capable bigs. Without Brook Lopez, their interior defense is not nearly as effective, and was exploited by Embiid. Lopez had back surgery earlier in the season, and there hasn’t been a set date for his return. Until then, there will be a clear advantage for the 76ers against this rather formidable opponent.
Miami Heat (+550)
In surprising fashion, the Miami Heat have managed to find their way into the top spot in the conference at the All Star Break. This team has always been a thorn in the 76ers’ side, and with an old friend like Jimmy Butler leading the charge, there never fails to be bad blood between these two teams.
Philadelphia and Miami have split their two matchups thus far, and haven’t faced off since the beginning of January. The Heat have found success in their zone defense against the 76ers in recent years, but with the addition of James Harden, the Sixers should fare much better moving forward.
Regardless, Miami is always a stout defensive team. Their starting lineup features multiple All-NBA caliber defenders. They have championship experience from their appearance in 2020, combined with the additions of Kyle Lowry and P.J Tucker, who have both recently been a part of title teams.
Boston Celtics ( +1200)
As the fifth-most likely team to come out of the East, Boston doesn’t necessarily seem to be a genuine threat. Although they did just beat the 76ers by nearly 50 points, Philadelphia and Boston have concluded their season series at a 2-2 tie.
The Celtics have a history of having Philadelphia’s number, eliminating them from the playoffs two different times in Joel Embiid’s career. But this Sixers team is genuinely better than their historic rival. Boston has credited their recent success to team defense, but their downfall has been stagnant offense. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum make up the majority of the offensive production, and while they are incredibly talented, they can be slowed down which can cause the entire offense to turn over.
Led by Al Horford, the interior defense was able to hold Joel Embiid down in their last meeting. Outside of that, Embiid has dominated the Celtics this season. With the increased offensive production from Harden, the Sixers will be more than capable of keeping up with Boston offensively, and would likely come down to the defensive effort on both sides.
76ers’ Odds (+380)
Philadelphia has been one of the most curious cases in the NBA this season. They muscled themselves into contention despite the constant buffoonery surrounding them, and have now added a top-20 player. The pairing of Harden and Embiid is by far the most talented duo in recent history, and arguably the best since Julius Erving and Moses Malone who won a championship in 1983.
This is a real chance for the Sixers to win the conference as it is as wide-open as it’s been in years, and now they have the firepower to pull off a deep run. Embiid is playing the best basketball of his career, and James Harden has already made an impact on this team without even stepping foot on the court yet.
The odds are obviously subject to change, but as it stands, the 76ers are in a quality position to make a run at a title.
All Odds Via OddsChecker
Mandatory Credit: USA Today