It could take a juggler for New Jersey sports bettors to balance the basketball scenarios still airborne during the NBA’s final regular-season week.
The Philadelphia Sixers, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks hit the homestretch bound to land in the second through fourth positions when the NBA Playoffs begin.
They all trail the Miami Heat, who only need a victory over the Atlanta Hawks or Orlando Magic to earn the No. 1 seed and homecourt advantage through the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Bettors consider that a done deal.
The Sixers, Celtics and Bucks have a safe lead over the other teams currently sitting above the play-in round cutoff. Those teams would be the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls, fifth and sixth, respectively.
The only question now is how they all compete this week for the No. 2 seed and home-court advantage in the second round. What’s more important, one more round of a homecourt edge or resting players?
The three teams will likely host their first-round playoff series starting the weekend of April 16. That comes after the play-in round, taking place April 12-15.
Here are five observations regarding the Sixers, Brooklyn Nets, the NBA elite and the sports-betting landscape.
1. The Sixers odds are still on sale if you believe the standings
Yes, the Sixers have won seven more games than the Nets as of April 7, but NJ online sportsbooks have not wavered, making the Nets a much shorter futures price than the Sixers.
That comes on the expectation Brooklyn will wake up and roll in the playoffs.
Here are updated odds to win the NBA title at DraftKings Sportsbook:
- Suns +260
- Bucks +550
- Nets +600
- Warriors +800
- Celtics +900
- Sixers +1000
And here are the odds to win the Eastern Conference:
- Bucks +235
- Nets +320
- Celtics +425
- Sixers +450
*Intangible. The Celtis lost center Robert Williams, who gives them 9.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game, both best on the team. His knee injury is a setback for Boston on defense.
2. Why are the Sixers’ odds so high?
It’s because they look like they can’t get over the hump.
Joel Embiid is having a monster year and is the second choice, +220, to win the NBA MVP behind Nikola Jokic, -320 at DraftKings. Embiid’s 30.4 points per game scoring average leads the NBA. He adds 11.6 rebounds. But he has needed help.
He got a lot with the James Harden blockbuster acquisition on Feb. 10. Harden, one of the league’s top playmakers, has helped take the Sixers from 10 games above .500 to almost 20. He averages almost 10 assists per game.
But something is still missing with this group.
A champion team won’t collapse and blow an eight-point fourth-quarter lead, as the Sixers did in losing to the lowly Detroit Pistons last week.
The Pistons are 13-27 at home, including the recent win over the Sixers.
Harden had a couple of critical turnovers, and the defense allowed wide-open three-pointers in that game. When teams play pressure defense, the Sixers often look like individuals, not a unit.
This is when Doc Rivers may start getting heat as a coach because the team shows a tendency to flatten out.
Intangible: Matisse Thybulle was ruled ineligible for the Sixers’ April 7 game against the Raptors in Toronto, presumably because he is not vaccinated. Canada will not let unvaccinated players cross the border. Thybulle has been a stellar defensive force for the Sixers and will be missed.
If the Sixers have to play the Raptors in the first round, he could be a significant loss for perhaps three of the games.
That’s also bound to affect team chemistry.
3. The Sixers could still play the Nets in the first round
The Nets are also land-locked. Next week, they will have either one or two levels of a play-in game.
As of Thursday afternoon, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Nets, Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets were sitting in 7-10 positions. If the Nets emerge as a No. 7 seed after the play-in, they would face the Sixers if Philadelphia ends in the No. 2 spot.
That’s a nice regional matchup for later in the postseason. And it’s a pleasant one to avoid now, although no one can control those circumstances.
The Nets still have superstars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, among others. They could turn it on at any time and at least topple someone in the first round.
4. Will Ben Simmons ever show up?
Before the season, skeptics said fans would likely see Richard Simmons, the eccentric weight-loss guru who promoted weight-loss programs through his “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” line of aerobic videos, before they would see Ben Simmons. Either in or out of a Sixers uniform.
Too bad there wasn’t a betting line on that. The Richard Simmons crowd would have at least gotten a push because Ben Simmons hasn’t played a game this season.
When he was traded to the Nets on Feb. 10, the expectation was that Simmons would slowly get himself back into shape. But now there’s a reported back injury too.
There’s always an excuse surrounding him. Simmons has been coddled to unprecedented levels and is out at least until the play-in round.
He may not play even then.
Intangible: If the Nets somehow play the Raptors in the postseason, Kyrie Irving would be out due to the vaccination restriction. And the Nets would not have the homecourt edge, so he could be out up to four games.
5. Los Angeles Lakers boost bottom line for NJ sportsbooks
We said it last year and much of this year: the Los Angeles Lakers are overbet.
That’s good news for New Jersey gamblers, who benefit from inflated betting odds on other teams like the Sixers, Nets and the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks when the Lakers take so much money.
And now the Lakers are eliminated from the playoffs.
DraftKings reports that 9% of all championship money came in on the Lakers at odds of 300-1 to win the NBA title.
These betting figures don’t even count the substantial money placed on the Lakers early in the season when they were one of the league’s most heavily-bet teams.
Books receive a huge windfall with the Lakers going nowhere.
They will receive a similar benefit if the heavily-bet Nets fail to win it all.
And now comes the finale.
“The NBA post-season betting always is something special,” Johnny Avello, the director of race and sportsbook operations for DraftKings, told NJ Gambling Sites. “It is the most exciting time of the year for a lot of basketball bettors. The first round is usually OK and then it picks up over the course of the playoffs.
“It’s a lot of fun for us.”
It will become even more fun when second or third-round series pit evenly-matched teams and excellent individual-game wagering opportunities.
The NBA regular season is considered a multi-month jockeying for playoff positions.
The jockeying will soon be finished, and New Jersey sports bettors prepare for the playoff chase.
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)