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With major health concerns, Sixers open as big underdogs to rival Celtics

Here we go again, Celtics open as big favorites over the 76ers, as questions remain about Joel Embiid’s health.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a whirlwind in the Eastern Conference lately, with betting markets fluctuating all over the place.

Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat took a 3-1 series lead into Milwaukee and emerged victorious in spectacular fashion, winning 128-126, sending Giannis Antetokounmpo and co. packing. The Bucks are just the fifth team ever to get eliminated in round one of the playoffs as a top seed of the conference, losing to a no. 8 seed.

That gave the Eastern Conference hierarchy a shake-up at the top.

Also, the no. 5 seed New York Knicks dispatched the Cleveland Cavaliers in a sleepy gentlemen’s sweep. Tom Thibodeau’s team will now gear up to host the Miami Heat in New York, a throwback to a hard-hitting old-school rivalry.

Few of us would have predicted that Jalen Brunson and co. would find themselves actually favored to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, but here we are.

I do not want to listen to the local Philadelphia radio lines if the Knicks make a final four before Joel Embiid’s Sixers do.

But look at the opening series prices on DraftKings, the Knicks already -155 point favorites:

The Knicks opened as -4.5 favorites at the Garden, but that’s shrunk down to -4 over the course of Thursday.

How did we get there!?

Roughly eight minutes into the first quarter of Game 1 of Heat-Bucks, toast of the buyout market Kevin Love, stepped in front of a rampaging Giannis, drawing an offensive foul. It sent The Greek Freak crashing to the hardwood on his lower back. He would miss the rest of that game, then miss Game 2 and Game 3, before returning in Game 4. But he was clearly never the same MVP-caliber talent.

Reports would even come out that Giannis needed IV fluids after his eventual return following Game 4:

Giannis went 1-for-9 in the final regulation frame of Game 6, finishing just 10-of-23 from the stripe.

And the Boston Celtics finally took care of the scrappy Atlanta Hawks on the same night the NFL was holding its annual draft. Boston won 128-120, ending their series 4-2, as the Philadelphia Eagles solidified their edge.

Boston certainly did not look as impressive as many of us thought in their first-round series. Their pick-and-roll defense simply wasn’t as advertised.

But even though the Sixers swept and the Celtics struggled, Boston emerged relatively unscathed. The Sixers are hurting. And that may be all the difference.

DraftKings has the Leprechaun gang as big favorites so far, as Joel Embiid’s health is a massive question mark looming over the entire playoffs, an all too familiar place for Sixers fans. He has a sprained LCL in his right knee after landing awkwardly trying to block Cam Johnson’s shot in a violent Game 3 vs. the Nets.

Here’s the series line:

That’s -300 amounts to roughly 70 percent implied odds that Jayson Tatum and co. advance.

Boston is -6.5 point favorites for Game 1.

Maybe the early money came pouring in on Philly Philly, because it opened with a -330 series Money Line in Boston’s favor, and a -7 point Game 1 spread.

But that shifted in Philly’s favor a bit as many of us watched the second half of the NFL Draft.

An updated look at your NBA Finals odds:

The Sixers were already hovering around +900, so even with the Milwaukee Bucks being eliminated, the Sixers only move up to +800 (they had actually peaked around +700 when the Atlanta Hawks were threatening to win Game 6).

The Sixers settle in with the fourth-best title odds overall, second-best in the East, and the Celtics' odds have shortened considerably.

Boston improves from +240 (about 28 percent implied) to +140 (roughly 40 percent) to win it all. The Sixers implied odds jump from about 9.5 percent up to 11 percent.

Clearly, DraftKings thinks that the seas are once again parting for the dreaded Boston Celtics, despite their dropping two-of-their-last-four games to the Atlanta Hawks recently. For the second season in a row, it seems the playoff injury luck is on their side.

No doubt, that if Joel Embiid were fully healthy (dude dropped 52 on them in a win late in the season) the odds would be a bit more evenly distributed; likely closer to the type of split we saw between Milwaukee and Boston before Giannis’ injury, I’d venture.

But with Joel’s status very much up in the air, (we still don’t know if he’ll be ready for the jump but there’s optimism) it makes sense Boston is such heavy favorites to emerge from the East now.

The winner of the Celtics-Sixers series will enjoy homecourt advantage over whoever emerges from the Knicks-Heat series. If Philadelphia could somehow, someway shake Boston, they’d be favored in the Conference Finals to make their first NBA Finals berth since Allen Iverson’s crew did it back in 2001. The road to the finals would, hypothetically, go through South Philly if they knock off Tatum and co.

If we get word that Embiid will suit up in Game 1, I’d expect that -6.5 spread to shrink down to -5 or -4.5. Normally, Embiid getting out there would provide an even bigger lift, but we won’t really know what percent he’ll be playing at healthwise. We won’t know how he’ll fare with a potentially cumbersome brace.

And of course, there’s the very real possibility he isn’t quite ready to go for Game 1 too I suppose, in which case, the line will only get bigger.

For now, we’ll wait. Game 1 is set for Monday, May 1st, on TNT. We’ll have our popcorn ready.

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