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NBA Daily: 76ers-Celtics Playoff Preview

With the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers set to face off once again in the NBA playoffs, there are many storylines and match-ups worth discussing. Quinn Davis explores the details and outlines some battles to watch in what should be an entertaining first-round series.

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After five weeks filled with food critique, vlogs, basketball games, and zero (!!) Covid-19 positives, the NBA playoffs are about to begin. Seven out of eight series are locked in, with only the Lakers awaiting the winner of the Portland Trailblazers and Memphis Grizzlies play-in game(s).

While all of the series will have their share of storylines, perhaps the most intriguing will come from the middle of the Eastern Conference bracket. The Philadelphia 76ers will meet the longtime rival Boston Celtics as the 3-6 matchup.

Without further ado, let’s jump into a breakdown of the series based on some arbitrarily created categories.

Projected Starters

Boston: Kemba Walker – Jaylen Brown – Jayson Tatum – Gordon Hayward – Daniel Theis

Philadelphia: Shake Milton – Josh Richardson – Tobias Harris – Al Horford – Joel Embiid

The injury to Ben Simmons certainly throws a wrench into what the Sixers can do defensively against Boston. Simmons’ defense was brilliant this season and likely will earn him first-team All-defense honors. He shadowed Tatum in each of their four regular-season games, holding him to point totals of 21, 15, 15 and 25 on a combined 24 for 72 (33 percent) shooting.

Without Simmons, the Sixers will have to get creative to match-up with the Celtic’s multiple scorers. Richardson is their best guard defender, so he should get most of the Walker duties. Milton, whose defense has been less than stellar, would be left to guard the bulkier Brown. That means Harris, who’s an improved but slow-footed defender, would get the honor of hounding the 22-year-old All-Star.

Horford will guard Hayward while Embiid will patrol the middle against Theis, rounding out the match-ups of the starting five.

Milton on Brown is an apparent mismatch, and it will be interesting to see how often the Celtics let him go to work in the post. Tatum shouldn’t be too fretted at the sight of Harris either, and Hayward may try to take the slower Horford off the dribble.

On the other side, the Celtics can match-up more conventionally. Walker will guard the opposing point guard Milton while Brown will guard Richardson. Tatum will guard Harris across from him, leaving Hayward tasked with guarding the bigger Horford. Embiid and Theis will stay matched up in the middle.

The only mismatch there is Horford against the smaller Hayward, though the Sixers may be wary of resorting to Horford post-ups as a primary source of offense. The Celtics have a clear advantage from the opening tip.

Benches

Philadelphia: Alec Burks – Matisse Thybulle – Furkan Korkmaz – Glenn Robinson III – Mike Scott

Boston: Marcus Smart – Brad Wanamaker – Enes Kanter – Semi Ojeleye – Grant Williams

Coaches are fickle in the post-season, so some of those names may not see the court, but the first few on there are likely to play significant roles in how this series turns out.

Burks has been a microwave for the Sixers in the bubble. He excels at pulling-up from deep and the midrange off the dribble, a skill that the team sorely lacks. Unfortunately for him, he may see a lot of Smart when he comes in. Smart’s stellar defense could mitigate the bench-scoring that Burks would bring.

Thybulle could be an X-Factor reserve for the Sixers. Head coach Brett Brown acknowledged as much in his post-game presser Friday night, saying about the rookie, “He is going to be huge, as a defensive requirement … I cannot understate that.”

With the previously outlined defensive match-ups leaving room for concern, Thybulle will see a hefty role in this series. He will see time guarding Walker as well as Tatum. The key for Thybulle will be to stay disciplined and defend without fouling. If he can do that and knock down some threes when open, he could find himself in the crunch-time lineup.

After Smart, the Celtics bench can look a little thin. Kanter will likely be used as the back-up center as he provides more resistance to an Embiid post-up, but he can fall flat guarding pick-and-rolls. Ojeleye is a defensive stopper that can defend the likes of Harris, but his offense will come and go.

Both teams may feature short rotations as this series goes along, but the edge here slightly belongs to the Celtics on the back of Smart’s proven productivity.

Coaching

Philadelphia: Brett Brown

Boston: Brad Stevens

Stevens and Brown both began their tenures with the 2013-14 season. They had met once before in the playoffs when the Celtics dispatched the Sixers in five games back in 2018.

Stevens is a top-tier coach, while Brown has dealt with rumors of dismissal since those playoffs. While Stevens is the better coach, Brown did hold his own against Nick Nurse last season in the series against the Toronto Raptors.

In this series, the coaching decisions made from game to game will be put under a microscope by each of these team’s large local media base. If things go poorly on Brown’s end, the scrutiny could lead to his dismissal.

The most crucial decisions Brown will have to make will be on the defensive end. Due to the mismatches across the board, the Sixers will have to jiggle with their defensive schemes.

The Sixers usually play drop defense when defending pick-and-rolls. The scheme involves the defender guarding the ball-handler fighting over the screen and chasing the ball-handler from behind, while the big man guarding the screener dops into the paint to protect from a layup or a lob. The goal here is to goad the ball-handler into settling for a mid-range jump shot while contesting it from behind.

This scheme works when the guard defenders are active and engaged, as it takes a certain energy level to fight over a screen and get back into the play to prevent an open floater. Simmons, Richardson and Thybulle have been great this season at executing this.

Without Simmons, though, there could be holes. Harris does not have the footwork and recovery speed to get around a screen and contest. Nor does Milton, who tends to get taken out of plays when picked. If the Celtics start to feast with floaters and open jumpers, Brown will need to adjust.

He could switch to a trap, where the man guarding the screener rushes out to double team the ball handler before recovering back to the rollover. The adjustment would force the Celtics’ ball-handlers to make crisp passes out of those plays to take advantage of a 4-on-3. Brown could also opt for switching, but this would leave players like Embiid and Horford to guard wings one-on-one, and it could also lead to the Celtics seeking out Milton or Korkmaz.

Stevens will have his own decisions to make on defense. The Sixers run post-ups more than any team in the league, and by a significant margin. Embiid carries those numbers, but Horford and Harris like to back down smaller players when given a chance.

How often the Celtics send a double for these post-ups, and how well the Sixers bigs handle them, will be a pivotal battle to watch.

Embiid has improved his passing out of double teams in the bubble, but expect the Celtics to test him further in that regard. Stevens should be sending help from every direction to show Embiid’s different looks.

It may be wise to guard Horford Straight up, as his passing is a strength and he won’t do as much damage out of repeated post-ups. Harris, meanwhile, is a weak passer, but the Celtics have the players to guard him one-on-one, so a double team may only come in case of an emergency.

Both coaches will have tough decisions regarding their rotation, which could be shortened to as few as eight players if the series goes the distance.

Statistics to Watch

In the four games these two teams played this season, two statistics jumped out: rebounding and free throw rate.

In the three games the Sixers won, they posted offensive rebounding rates of 32 percent, 33 percent and 31 percent. Those rates were about ten points higher than the Celtics in those games, per CleaningtheGlass. In the game that Boston won this season, the offensive rebounding rates were very similar, about 27 percent for each.

Rebounding will be crucial for this series as the Sixers try to keep the pace. Without Simmons, this will require Embiid going into overdrive down low. He is capable of this in short bursts, but it is unclear if he can sustain that kind of effort for heavy minutes.

The Sixers won the free throw battle in their three wins as well, and this will be another key as the team tries to advance to round two. In the game won by the Celtics, they paraded to the line, putting up a free throw rate of 36.5 percent.

If the Sixers defend without fouling and get to the line often, they could give themselves a chance to beat this Boston team. If the Celtics match the Sixers in the paint, it could be a short series.

Chippiness Potential

Every good playoff series comes with a little animosity. For this series to get feisty, it will be on the backs of two players: Marcus Smart and Joel Embiid.

Those two have had a history of getting into fracases in the past, and the playoff intensity is excellent tinder for potential extracurriculars. Outside of the two usual suspects, this series may be rather tame.

Harris, Horford and Milton are generally mild-mannered. Brown, Tatum, and Walker take the high road as well. All it takes is one hard foul to spark disdain, but it is unlikely we see any all-out brawls.

Final Prediction

While the Sixers have potentially the best player in the series in Embiid, the rest of the roster without Simmons is going to have trouble handling the Celtics scorers. Barring a dominant performance from the center, expect the Celtics to take care of business in round one—Celtics in five.

Quinn Davis is a contributor for Basketball Insiders. He is a former collegiate track runner who currently resides in Philadelphia.

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2021 NBA Draft Top 3 Picks & Top 10 First-Round Selection Odds

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The 2021 NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, July 29. The draft will begin at 8:00 p.m. (EST) on ESPN platforms at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, and it is the first time the draft is being televised on both ABC and ESPN. Free agency will also begin on Monday, Aug. 2 at 6:00 p.m. (EST). For NBA Draft betting, there are several available apps for placing bets, like from Bovada, MyBookie, Intertops, BetUS, BetOnline, BetNow, 5Dimes, and Sportsbetting.ag. DraftKings and FanDuel are other feasible options, in addition to the sites listed above.

Anyways, the Detroit Pistons have the first overall pick of the draft, followed by the Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Orlando Magic, etc. Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham is the projected first overall pick. Jalen Green, the six-foot-five NBA G League player who forwent college basketball and attended San Joaquin Memorial High School, is expected to get drafted by the Pistons. The Pac-12 Player of the Year (2021) and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year (2021) winner, Evan Mobley, is projected to get picked by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

However, teams have been negotiating trades with one another, leading up to next week’s draft. Per Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer, the Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors are expressing interest in trading with the Cleveland Cavaliers in order to move up to the No. 3 spot of the draft. In the second round, the Milwaukee Bucks have the 31st pick of the draft. There is a chance that these are just meaningless internal discussions, existing only to explore the values of specific players and to keep other general managers on their heels.

No. 1 Pick Odds

While Cade Cunningham has the best odds (-8000) of being selected first overall, there are a few other aforementioned players here that are at the top of the list, too. Jalen Green has +1500 odds, Evan Mobley has +2200 odds, and Jalen Suggs possesses +2500 odds. Needless to say, however, Cunningham will be selected first before everyone else. Here’s why. According to 247Sports, the six-foot-eight Big 12 Player of the Year (2021) and Consensus first-team All-American (2021) ranked No. 1 in the final rankings class of 2020. Heading into college, the native Texan was already an established top-ranked, talented recruit.

Green and Mobley were also highly touted stars coming out of high school, but hands down, Cunningham has the best résumé for NBA scouts and general managers. In 27 games played for the Oklahoma State Cowboys’ 2020-21 season, Cunningham averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.5 assists, helping to lead his team to the Big 12 Tournament and NCAA Tournament. The Cowboys lost 91-81 against the No. 3 Texas Longhorns in the Big 12 Tournament, and then the team lost 80-70 versus the No. 12 Oregon State Beavers in the NCAA Tournament. The Detroit Pistons need all the help they can get.

  • All table odds were retrieved from Bovada 

No. 2 Pick Odds

Jalen Green has the favored odds (-200) of being selected second overall in the 2021 draft, followed by Evan Mobley (+170), Jalen Suggs (+650), and Jonathan Kuminga (+2200). Regarding Green’s G League performance, in 15 games started, he averaged 17.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. The 19-year-old also played for an average of 32 minutes per game. Despite oddsmakers projecting the highest possible odds for Cunningham’s No. 1 selection, the No. 2 pick is not as clear.

In 33 games played for the USC Trojans, Evan Mobley averaged 16.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game. Referencing the RSCI Top 100 rankings, the seven-foot tall forward/center was ranked third on the list. Below .500 NBA teams, such as the Magic and Raptors, could trade up to draft the big man. It all depends on the teams’ different needs and priorities.

 

No. 3 Pick Odds

Evan Mobley has the best odds (-200) of getting drafted third overall. In the 2020-21 USC Trojans’ season, they lost 72-70 in the Pac-12 Tournament against the No. 23 Colorado Buffaloes. Then, they proceeded to lose 85-66 in the NCAA tournament versus the No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs. Mobley had a team-high of 19 points and seven rebounds in that Elite Eight loss.

Though, if Jalen Green is still on the board at this point, it would not be out-of-the-blue if he was selected third ahead of Mobley, considering his odds are +150. For the other odds, Jalen Suggs is next (+250), followed by Jonathan Kuminga (+900), Scottie Barnes (+1200), Davion Mitchell (+6600), and Josh Giddey (+6600).

“To Be Drafted in the Top 10” Odds

With all eyes on the top three picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, there might be some folks speculating if players like Kai Jones and Josh Giddey have reasonable odds of at least making the top 10 in the draft. Jones’ odds are +275, whereas Giddey’s odds are +135. UConn shooting guard James Bouknight has -250 odds. Six-foot-nine, 19-year-old German basketball star Franz Wagner has -150 odds of being selected somewhere in the top 10 overall. Moreover, Jonathan Kuminga’s odds are -10000. The 18-year-old G League player is projected to land sixth in the draft.

Plus, according to several mock drafts, Davion Mitchell is expected to be picked by either the Golden States Warriors (seventh) or New Orleans Pelicans (tenth). His odds are -300. Keon Johnson is another one. Per NBA.com’s mock drafts, K. Johnson is projected to be taken No. 8 overall by the Orlando Magic, assuming this team does not pursue any potential trades to move up. Additionally, FSU’s Scottie Barnes has -10000 odds of getting selected in the top 10, and some mock draft beat writers also have Barnes going to the Magic.

 

 

Draft betting is much like player prop bets and NBA Finals betting. There are plenty of uncertainties and variables one must consider before placing bets, such as a specific team trading up or down during the night of the draft. Think about all the possible outcomes and scenarios before placing a bet, even if you choose to play it safe.

It is imperative for gamblers to search for any news articles or videos the same day of the draft, in order to keep up to date on important breaking news. Before placing bets on professional basketball, keep in mind that Bovada is the best betting site for NBA-related content and requested wagers.

 

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Raptors, Magic aim to obtain No. 3 pick from Cavaliers in 2021 NBA Draft

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The 2021 NBA Draft is the 75th edition of the draft, and it is scheduled to take place next Thursday, July 29. According to numerous 2021 NBA mock drafts, the Cleveland Cavaliers are projected to draft Evan Mobley, the seven-foot tall forward/center and Pac-12 Player of the Year (2021) for the USC Trojans, with the third overall pick. Referencing NBA.com’s consensus mock drafts, there were six top players who appeared in all twelve of the mocks they surveyed: Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs, Scottie Barnes, and Jonathan Kuminga. The Detroit Pistons are expected to take Cunningham with the first overall pick, followed by the Houston Rockets selecting Jalen Green with the second pick of the draft.

While the Toronto Raptors are currently set to pick fourth and the Orlando Magic are expected to pick fifth, per The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, both teams have made trade offers to the Cavs in order to move up to acquire the third spot. O’Connor stated, “League sources say the Cavaliers have received significant trade interest for this selection, and the Raptors and Magic Orlando—the next two teams up to pick—have made offers to move up. But Cleveland might just stay put.” Now, it is unknown what the Raptors and Magic are prepared to give up. Orlando has the advantage over Toronto, considering they also possess the No. 8 pick.

On Mar. 25, the Magic traded All-Star center Nikola Vucevic and forward Al-Farouq Aminu to the Chicago Bulls, in exchange for Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr., and two first-round picks. The two first-round picks were for 2021 and 2023, first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. This is why Orlando has extra leverage over Toronto. Some experts are speculating that Orlando will trade Mohamed Bamba, Gary Harris, and the fifth and eighth picks of the draft. To the fans, that right there sounds like a raw deal.

However, on the flip side, a team like the Raptors are in desperate need of a viable center. Last season, they finished 27-45 (.375), ranking 12th in the Eastern Conference. If not the Magic, the Raptors might be more than willing to give up the same, if not more. Toronto could trade Pascal Siakam and the No. 4 pick. In the previous offseason, a few of the notable departures for the Raptors were Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.

Both of these aforementioned players played important roles in helping the Raptors to win their first NBA championship in the 2018-19 season. Though, the Raptors would have to make it a top priority to re-sign Kyle Lowry as well. On Oct. 7, 2019, Lowry signed a one-year, $31 million contract with the organization.

Not to mention, the Magic already have Mohamed Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr., and Johnathan Isaac on their roster. Furthermore, after recovering from their injuries, Isaac and Markelle Fultz will be returning to the court this season. Maybe Magic general manager John Hammond is using a trial-and-error approach, hoping to keep the most talented, best center available on the roster. If one throws enough sludge at the wall, eventually something will stick.

Leading up to the draft, basketball enthusiasts can continue to speculate and ask questions, but none of these potential draft moves are carved in stone. The transactions will not occur until the night of the draft, so one person’s educated guess is as good as anyone’s right now. All too often, teams get fleeced every year during the draft because various coaches and general managers either underrate or overestimate a player’s value.

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Injury Update: Hawks’ Onyeka Okongwu out 6 months after shoulder surgery

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After Atlanta Hawks‘ Onyeka Okongwu underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder on Wednesday night, the 20-year-old center will take the next six months off. Okongwu is a 6’8″ two-time California Mr. Basketball (2018, 2019), selected sixth overall in the 2020 NBA Draft. After agreeing to a rookie contract, Atlanta signed him to their roster on November 24, 2020, and he made his NBA debut on January 15, 2021. The signed multi-year contract was worth a guaranteed $11.9 million over the course of two seasons.

According to a report first published by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Dr. Neal ElAttrache operated on Okongwu in Los Angeles, California, and he suffered this shoulder injury earlier in May. He will likely be eligible to play as early as late February 2022. While the typical recovery time for a torn labrum after surgery is between three to six months, labral tears can negatively impact athletes in a sport like basketball, if they are not careful. It will not recover by itself without the proper care.

Yesterday, the Hawks organization released a statement: “Onyeka Okongwu underwent surgery earlier tonight in Los Angeles to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Dr. Neal ElAtrrache of Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic performed the surgery. Okongwu will now enter a period of rest and rehabilitation and is expected to make a full recovery in approximately six months.”

In the 2020-21 NBA season, in 50 games played, he averaged 4.6 points and 3.3 rebounds. Over the course of the 2021 postseason, Okongwu played a total of 166 minutes, averaging 9.2 minutes played per game, in eighteen games for the Hawks. He scored five points in the first round series versus the New York Knicks, 19 points in the conference semifinals versus the Philadelphia 76ers, and 24 points in the Eastern Conference Finals series against the Milwaukee Bucks.

In his junior and senior seasons playing for the University of Southern California Trojans, he earned those aforementioned California Mr. Basketball awards. In 28 games played in college, he averaged 16.2 points, 8.6 total rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game. His average field goal shooting percentage in college was also 61.6 percent. He will be turning 21-years-old this December.

Referencing his current contract negotiations via Basketball-Reference, Okongwu earned $5.8 million in this past 2020-21 season. Furthermore, he will earn $6.1 million in the 2021-22 season, $6.3 million in the 2022-23 season, and $8.1 million in the 2023-24 season. The 2022-23 and 2023-24 add-ons are team options.

Moreover, the upcoming free agency will begin on Aug. 1, 2021 and the regular season is scheduled to start on Oct. 19, 2021. For betting purposes, the 2022 NBA Finals will air throughout June 2022. The NBA has transitioned its schedule back to normal format. The league office anticipates that future playoff series will no longer get pushed back to the months of June and July. Similar to everything else, however, this current schedule is subject to change due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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