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Will Mikal Bridges make the Sixers (further) regret trading him, or will Embiid & co. handle biz?

DraftKings Odds for the Sixer-Nets best of seven first round series featuring Joel Embiid, James Harden, Mikal Bridges, and Nicolas Claxton

On Saturday afternoon at 1 P.M. Eastern, the 53-28 Philadelphia 76ers, the no. 3 seed in the East will host the 45-36 Brooklyn Nets. Mikal Bridges and co. finished as the Conference’s no. 6 seed.

The Sixers wrapped up their year with the third best net rating in the NBA with a +4.4. Brooklyn grades out 14th overall with a +1.1 net rating. But the Nets started the year with the likes of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. At one point earlier in the year, when KD and Kyrie were still there, the Nets won a franchise best 18 of 20 games. Safe to say, Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn’s squad looks substantially different now.

Ben Simmons won’t even be a storyline this time, other than as an awkward reminder of how badly Sixers’ President Daryl Morey got the better of Nets’ President Sean Marks, when he plucked James Harden.

It might make more sense to take a look at the Nets once former Sixer Mikal Bridges made his debut. That actually came on a Feb. 11th, in a matchup vs. your Philadelphia 76ers of all teams. These were the days when Tyrese Maxey was still coming off the bench, and really struggling.

The Sixers barely took that game 101-98, giving Joel Embiid and Harden a bit of a scare. Embiid had 37 points that night. Harden dropped 29. Nobody else scored more than 12 points. The non Embiid-Harden Sixers were a combined 12-of-37. Have you heard that story before? If the Sixers struggle in this series it will be because we get more lines like that.

If the Sixers want to win this series, they’re going to have to stay healthy, and get consistent contributions from their role players. Playoff P.J. Tucker could provide a big lift.

Since Bridges’ debut, the Nets have the 23rd ranked offensive rating, scoring 113.2 points per 100 possessions. Their defensive rating grades out at a more respectable 17th overall, allowing 114.7 points per 100. Overall, they’re 12-15 in games Mikal suits up (and that dude always suits up).

If we look at the Sixers over this same span, from Feb. 11 on, their offensive rating is a stellar 3rd best 120.2 (only the Knicks and Kings were more efficient offensively than Doc Rivers’ bunch since that Mikal Bridges Nets debut date). On the defensive end, the Sixers posted the 16th best defense allowing 114.6 points per 100.

But on the entire season, the Sixers have the third best offensive rating (117) and a much more respectable 8th best defensive rating (112.5).

And our favorite stat of all, we’ve cited on numerous occasions, the Sixers have the best record in the entire NBA going back to Dec. 9th, at 42-16.

James Harden missed 14 games with a foot sprain starting back in November. So the turnaround mostly coincides with his return to the floor. That’s the biggest reason for optimism for Philly this postseason, namely that when Harden and Embiid are both fully healthy, they’ve been mostly unstoppable as a team. Their pick and roll action has been on par with some of the all-time duos.

Drum roll please....on DraftKings (dramatic pause) your perhaps-MVP led Sixers are -900 favorites to advance. The Nets are given +600 odds to pull off the upset. Philadelphia opened Game 1 at -8, and the line is now up to -8.5 (-110) with a -350 money line.

The Sixers ultimately have the 5th best title odds at +1000 heading into the postseason. Brooklyn has the 17th best odds at +60,000. It’s arguably a slap in the face to the Nets considering the Timberwolves still have a win-and-in matchup vs. the Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey led Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday just to make it into the playoffs as an 8th seed.

Brooklyn is already in as a no. 6 and are given longer odds. Tough crowd, but I can’t pretend I don’t get it.

If you were feeling daring, you could bet on Tyrese Maxey (+5,000) to lead the series in total points. I only say that because you’d have to lay ten just to net a buck if you wanted to pick Joel at -1,000 to be the series points leader.

The series spread comes in at Sixers -2.5 games (-150). I suppose that’s DraftKings way of suggesting to us they “think” Philly wins in five or six games here.

Let’s say you’re in a Sixers in five kind of mood, you might bet on that to happen at +210. If you remember all too vividly, a Joel Embiidless group dropping Game one four years ago to a Spencer Dinwiddie led Nets team in 2019, (also an early day tip) but do think they’ll get their act together eventually, DraftKings offers you a “Nets steal Game 1, but Sixers win the series +500 prop,” for those with a stomach iron enough to cheer Brooklyn in Game 1.

In the end, as good as Nic Claxton has demonstrated to be defensively, as sensational a rise as Mikal Bridges has had, I don’t think the Nets have the firepower to matchup with this 76ers group. Cam Johnson is really good. Royce O’Neal has helped. Cam Thomas can go off if he gets a chance. But I like the home town crew.

As we’ve seen in the net ratings, the Net just haven’t been a great team since their trade. They showed signs of life winning 6 of their final 9, but that streak came right after they dropped 6 of 7.

My gut says that if James Harden looks healthy, this series won’t be too close. He’s their straw that stirs the drink. As dominant as Joel Embiid has looked this season, when Harden is cooking, they start to get that championship vibe.

But I’ll admit, something about that 1 P.M. tip does make me a tiny bit nervous. Maybe I’ll spring for that iron-stomach weird +500 prop. I don’t think I could bet enough to wind up rooting for Brooklyn anyways.

I’m a little off script here, but I’m definitely going to pop in a Sixers (-900), Celtics (-1,000), Suns (-500), Cavs (-210) four team series parlay (all teams must advance) too. That pays out +116 so your $10 bucks pays out $21.65. With Julius Randle looking iffy for the opening of that series, you can thank me later.

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