Our NBA betting experts Andre Snellings, Eric Moody, Eric Karabell, Jim McCormick and Steve Alexander gathered to provide more insight on the two Eastern Conference powers.
Odds by ESPN BET
Boston (-4.5, 224.5) at Philadelphia. The 76ers are on the second of a back-to-back, and the Celtics last played on Monday. How are you betting this game?
Karabell: Not only does it seem rather unlikely the league betting favorites would lose twice to their rivals within a week’s time, but the 76ers played poorly defensively and lacked bench depth in Tuesday’s home loss to the Pacers. Missing Kelly Oubre Jr. and Nicolas Batum is a big deal. You have to take the Celtics, even giving points, in this one.
McCormick: I am taking the points here given the talk of Kristaps Porzingis‘ potentially balky knee and the fact that Joel Embiid has regularly been playing in short-rest windows this season. The Celtics already lack a solution for Embiid now that Al Horford is well past prime defensive range, as the departure of Robert Williams will eventually surface. Boston is an elite team, of course, but I think the Sixers finally have a coaching and matchup advantage.
Moody: I’m backing the Celtics to cover the spread. The Celtics lost to the 76ers a week ago and are looking to avenge that loss. The 76ers recently faced the Indiana Pacers twice in a span of three days, including a Tuesday night matchup, against a team that plays at the second-fastest pace in the league. The Celtics have a 7-3 record against the spread this season. On Wednesday night, the 76ers will be unable to contain Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Snellings: I’m taking the points and backing the 76ers in this matchup. In general, I think the Celtics are the more talented team but the 76ers match up well with them to make it a toss-up on a given night. Embiid is the biggest mismatch, with the Celtics having no real answer for him. Meanwhile, the 76ers give up the fewest points in the NBA to opposing shooting guards and the second-fewest to opposing small forwards. Add in the home court advantage and the points, and even on the second night of a back-to-back I’ll take the 76ers. Not-for-nothing, the ESPN game predictor has this one very close (Celtics by 1.6 points, within the spread).
The Celtics (+360) enter the night as the favorites to win the NBA Championship, while the 76ers (+1400) have the sixth-shortest odds. Are either (or both) of these appealing to you at these odds?
Alexander: While I agree with those odds, because I think the Celtics are going to win it all, if I was going to throw $100 dollars at it I’d go with the Sixers simply because of the (much) better payout if they pull it off. And given the way Tyrese Maxey is playing alongside Embiid, along with consistent play from Tobias Harris, they have as good a chance as anyone if Embiid can stay healthy.
Moody: The Celtics are appealing considering how they started this season. Due to the offseason additions of Jrue Holiday and Porzingis to compliment Tatum and Brown, Boston is 8-2 and excelling on both sides of the court. The Celtics rank near the top of the league in offensive rating and defensive rating. Imagine how much more lethal Boston will become heading into the postseason as this team plays more games together.
Snellings: I’d be more interested in backing the 76ers than the Celtics at these odds, because I don’t have the Celtics as clear favorites and for odds that short I would need to. I have the 76ers as one of a handful of teams, including the Celtics, with a legitimate chance to win it all. With two teams in roughly the same bracket, I’ll back the one that gives a lot more juice.
Joel Embiid (+750) and Jayson Tatum (+1000) are among the early favorites for MVP, trailing only Nikola Jokic (+210) and Luka Doncic (+400). Do you view Tatum or Embiid as the more likely player to take home the award?
Alexander: Because I think the Celtics are likely to win it all and will have one of the best regular seasons of any team in the league, I’m going with Tatum for MVP. Jokic’s odds aren’t too appealing and I still think the Mavericks are playing above their heads. Doncic is likely going to get hurt and miss games at some point, and he’s carrying the team on his back thus far. The best player on the best team is your MVP and I like Tatum and the Celtics.
McCormick: It’s Tatum, not just because he was my preseason best bet for this, but based on his growth in the pecking order of the league; Embiid has established himself as an MVP based on amazing personal achievements, while Tatum has far more team success. The marriage of Tatum’s playoff resume and his numbers is already underway, and I think he’s the best bet other than Doncic. The increased playmaking along with the infusion of new talent on his roster helps solidify Tatum’s status as a team leader and the clear top talent on a clear contender.
Snellings: I’ve got Embiid, who I think should be the front-runner for the award at this point. He’s got plenty of narratives working in his favor, including the perception entering the season that the 76ers were struggling due to the James Harden situation while the Celtics were expected to dominate after adding two All Star caliber talents and extending All NBA Jaylen Brown to surround Tatum with. Then, we’ve also got a working trend in the last five seasons that every MVP winner has gone back-to-back, and Embiid could continue that trend. Finally, just in terms of production, Embiid and Jokic have been on an island for the past three seasons, going 1-2 (in some order) in the MVP race each time. If both stay healthy and playing at this level, it’s just a higher level than Tatum has shown the ability to reach. Maybe Giannis Antetokounmpo could join the party if the Bucks right the ship, but I think Embiid at his best is just more productive than Tatum. Unless the Celtics have the dramatically better record, which at this point they don’t, I think Embiid more likely to take the MVP.
Tyrese Maxey (Even) is the current favorite for Most Improved Player. Is that a bet you’re interested in making at those odds, or is there someone else you like at longer odds?
Alexander: The Most Improved Player usually makes the All-Star team and Maxey looks like a great bet to do that with James Harden with the Clippers, and Maxey going nuts for a 50-point game recently that generated a lot of attention. Maxey is unchallenged at the point in Philly, doesn’t miss games for nagging injuries and is playing with all the confidence in the world. Not only is he an MIP candidate, but if Joel Embiid weren’t in the way, he’d also probably be in the early running for MVP.
McCormick: I don’t love even odds on a futures bet, but then again, if Maxey keeps this up, we’ll get deep into juice for this one (as in it’s going to cost you to make this bet). I would assume he continues this massive leap given the team absolutely needs his initiation talents and really the biggest spike isn’t his scoring, it’s how clean and effective his creation has been. With such a low turnover rate along with a leap in distribution and even solid defensive rates, this is a worthy bet given, as Alexander mentions, Maxey checks all the requisite boxes.
Karabell: Maxey averaged 20.3 PPG last season. If he stays at 28.4 PPG for this season, this one seems rather obvious. The rise in statistical production is one thing, but there is also a clear narrative about Maxey running the offense of a top-5 team. The betting odds aren’t great, but this seems Maxey’s award to lose.
Snellings: I think Scottie Barnes (+500) and Alperen Sengun (+1200) are both worth keeping an eye on, and may make better betting targets at this point than Maxey since he’s even money. Barnes is having an excellent season after a pedestrian sophomore campaign, bouncing back well beyond even his Rookie of the Year form in a big way, and Sengun is quietly one of the faces for a surprising Rockets team. If the Rockets stay in the playoffs hunt all season, it would greatly strengthen his campaign. I do believe Maxey would win the award if it were given today, and with Harden gone there’s a strong chance Maxey continues to play at this level. But, it’s a long season, and it’s not worth it for me to do an even-money futures bet with 70 games and five months left in the campaign.
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