This first round series in the Eastern Conference wasn’t supposed to bring us much excitement, and while it almost succeeded in proving the doubters wrong, the underdog Washington Wizards simply did not have enough firepower to make this one interesting, even after the Philadelphia 76ers lost their best player for the final game and a half of what turned out to be a five-game series. Philly will surely have all of their thoughts on their big man’s health now.
Free Picks: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Washington Wizards, 2021 Eastern Conference Playoffs Round 1
Series Results: 76ers wins series 4-1
As was the case for most of the first round series in the Eastern Conference, not much was expected from this one seed vs. eight seed matchup. We got exactly what we expected for the first three games as the Wizards failed time and again to figure out a way to stop Philadelphia 76ers center and NBA MVP candidate Joel Embiid. They never did figure it out, only stealing Game 4 because Embiid missed the final three quarters.
Embiid ended up missing Game 5, and even without their big man in the middle to run the offense through, the Wizards were unable to stop Philly’s supporting characters, getting outscored by 15 in the second half as they were eliminated in a deflating 129-112 defeat. Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook continued to struggle, going 17-for-43 in the win or go home scenario. Clearly, their ailments were bothering them more than they let on.
Whether or not they decided to run it back with this group next year remains to be seen, as head coach Scott Brooks’ contract was up when his team’s season ended. Westbrook and Beal are a superb backcourt duo, but they must be healthy, and they need a gaggle of elite sharpshooters to offset their lack of deep-shooting prowess. The continued progression of center Daniel Gafford and wing man Rui Hachimura mean the future could be very bright in D.C.
The 76ers, on the other hand, get the luxury of taking on the Atlanta Hawks in the second round while the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets—the other members of the East’s so-called ‘Big Three’ alongside Philly—duke it out in the other Eastern Conference semifinal.
We would expect Embiid to return and dominate Atlanta, but if he can’t go and this knee soreness is more severe than previously thought, Trae Young and the underdog Hawks could be a very intriguing NBA pick here. After a snooze-fest of a first round in the East, bring on these juicy Conference Semis matchups!
May 23, 01:00 p.m., Wells Fargo Center
The lack of consistency across their two play-in games is what really scares me when it comes to the Washington Wizards in this series against the Philadelphia 76ers. They were on an absolute roll when they played Boston and then, boom, the wheels came off, they were embarrassed in the second half, and they lost.
Then, they come back and nearly 30 a team that just nearly 30’d the Charlotte Hornets in their previous game. Strange times for the Wiz, and we’re going to steer clear of them for now, making the Sixers the easy NBA pick for Game 1 here.
There are lots of other reasons why we like the Sixers to start the series off strong against the Wizards. They are, after all, the No. 1 seed, and a No. 1 seed has only ever been upset in the first round once in NBA history, and those We Believe Warriors are not walking through those doors for the Wizards this weekend. The Sixers also won 15 more regular season games than the Wizards, which is the largest margin of any first round series.
The Sixers are just a better, more complete team and their offense runs through a top three player over the past campaign, big man Joel Embiid. Washington’s top guy, Bradley Beal, has been playing through a hamstring issue, but it’s still clear at times that he’s hampered, and the Wiz need him at 110 percent to have a chance in this series.
In fact, even Beal’s 60-point explosion back in January wasn’t enough to boost his team to a win over the Sixers, who took that one 141-136. The Sixers actually won all three meetings between these clubs during the season, and Beal played very well in each one of those games, which leads one to wonder that if they can’t even beat this team with Beal at his best, how are they going to do it when Beal’s limping about?
Westbrook will need to step up, and he is clearly still capable of doing that based on his play during the latter half of the season. His ghastly display against Boston notwithstanding, he has been a problem for opponents over the past few months, so, will Defensive Player of the Year Ben Simmons take the challenge and try to lock down the Brodie? Or will he take that challenge opposite Beal?
Simmons is listed as a point guard but he’s about 6’10”, so his size could really cause trouble for the Wizards dynamic duo if he can manage to stay in front of them.
The fact that the Sixers are such an efficient team—they shot 47.6 from the field this season, fourth in the NBA—will also throw a monkey wrench into Washington’s plans to run, run, and run some more. If the Wiz can’t run and put up fast break points, they don’t have much of a chance, which is why we love the Sixers as our top pick here.
This all before even discussing the impact Embiid can have on this team. Daniel Gafford has been an impressive young player for the Wiz, but he’s not ready for Joel, and Robin Lopez is also a laughable matchup suggestion for one of the top three MVP candidates this season. Do the safe thing and take the Sixers to cover the -7.5 NBA point spread at lovely -105 NBA odds, value which makes it one of our best bets for today.
Game 2 (76ers leads series 1-0)
May 26, 07:00 p.m., Wells Fargo Center
Looking at the team stats, you would’ve thought that the Washington Wizards had mopped the floor with the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of their first round playoff series. The Wiz shot the ball at a higher clip from the field, from the three-point line, and from the charity stripe than the Sixers, they outrebounded their opponents and they also dominated them in the paint.
That last one is especially jarring considering the MVP candidate roaming the paint for Philly. But looking closer, you see that the Wizards committed five more turnovers than the Sixers, which led to 15 points for the Eastern Conference’s number one seed. If there’s anything you can’t do when you’re an underdog—especially an eighth seed trying to upset a first seed—it’s be careless with the ball.
They will have to clean that up if they expect to make this an interesting series, but it may be difficult for them considering they ranked 20th in the league with 14.4 turnovers per game during the regular season. The fact that the Sixers also ranked second in the league in opponent turnovers per game at 15.6 doesn’t inspire confidence in the Wiz either.
In fact, it does the opposite, pushing us towards another big NBA point spread for the Sixers as our NBA pick for this contest. The fact that the Wizards have really struggled in the City of Brotherly Love of late, dropping seven of the past 10 against the spread at Wells Fargo, also doesn’t help their cause.
While Joel Embiid had a slow start on Sunday, he followed that single-digit first-half performance with a dominant second-half display that ran him up to 30 points on 56 percent from the field and 12-for-13 shooting at the charity stripe for the night. Ben Simmons continues to be a horrendous free throw shooter, having gone 0-for-6, but I think the efficiency from Embiid and Tobias Harris (5-for-5) mostly makes up for it.
And speaking of Harris, how about his first-half explosion of 28 points? He essentially kept Philly in the game single-handedly while the rest of his team dilly-dallied during the first 24 minutes. He finished with a playoff career-high 37 points and served as the catalyst for the Game 1 win. We wouldn’t expect that to happen more than once or twice per series, so the onus is on Embiid to take over for a full 48 on Wednesday.
The Sixers certainly do not want to suffer a split in their own building, and Embiid playing big in both halves will be a major factor. Early foul trouble and a lack of shots slowed Embiid early, but it was evident that no one they put on him could stop him with any inconsistency, no matter how big, quick, or athletic they were. The big Cameroonian’s got all the tools, and when he wants to use them, there’s not much anyone can do.
While they didn’t quite cover the spread as a home favorite in Game 1, it is a situation that the Sixers have thrived in during this season: Their 22-14-1 ATS mark at Wells Fargo this year was tied for fifth-best in the league, their 31-23-1 ATS mark as the favorite ranked ninth, and their 18-14 ATS mark as the home favorite was good for sixth in the association.
Another factor that has us leaning to Philly for our top pick for this clash is the length and defensive acumen the Sixers have in guys like Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle. These guys are athletic enough to stay with Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal, and they’ve got the size to give them issues as well.
I’d expect those two to match up with Washington’s dynamic duo more moving forward. And considering Simmons is a Defensive Player of the Year finalist, it would behoove him to take on the challenge and shut down Beal or Brodie to lend a little credence to that nomination. Not to mention how that would help his team in the grand scheme of things.
The Sixers are never going to be given a reasonable spread because of the fact that it’s a first vs. eighth seed matchup, but we just can’t bet on the Wizards covering in Philadelphia during this series. We’re going to play it safe and buy up the Philly spread to -7.5 points at decent -132 NBA odds as one of our best bets for today.
Game 3 (76ers leads series 2-0)
May 29, 07:00 p.m., Capital One Arena
After allowing the Washington Wizards to put a little scare in the City of Brotherly Love after a slim seven-point win for the Philadelphia 76ers, they came out in Game 2 and punched their opponents right in the mouth in the first quarter, going on a 24-12 run after Washington’s last lead of the game at 12-11 to finish off the frame strong.
They put up 30+ in the second quarter too, but once again, just like Game 1, the Wizards continued to hang around, hanging up 33 points of their own in the q. The third quarter finished with the Sixers holding onto the same 14-point lead that they’d taken into halftime, but there was a whole lot of drama to come during the final 12 minutes of the game that followed.
Starting guards for both sides went down in the second half, with Seth Curry and Russell Westbrook both suffering ankle sprains. Curry was helped to the locker room in the third quarter and did not return, but what happened when Brodie rolled his ankle on Furkan Korkmaz’s foot in the fourth and subsequently made his way down the concourse at Wells Fargo Center was a whole other story.
As he was exiting the open area of the arena, some half-witted and absolutely awful person poured their popcorn on Westbrook’s head as he left. Understandably, this incited the ire of Russ and he was visibly incensed after the incident.
Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and Westbrook was escorted out despite it seeming like the point guard might at one point succeed in dragging the entire Wells Fargo Center security team up to have a chat with that idiotic fan. The fan was booted from the game, his Sixers season tickets revoked, and he has been given an indefinite ban from attending any events at Wells Fargo Center.
It really should have been an automatic lifetime ban, especially considering that this disgusting act was committed by a season-ticket holder, who should be held to a higher standard as regular attendees of games. Westbrook spoke on the alarming incident during his postgame interview.
“To be blatantly honest man, this s*** is getting outta hand, especially for me,” Westbrook said. “Just, the amount of disrespect, the amount of fans doing whatever the f*** they wanna do. It’s just, it’s outta pocket. Seriously. Like, any other setting I’m all for the fans enjoying the game and having fun. It’s part of sports. I get it. But there are certain things that cross the line.
“And, any other setting I know for a fact that fans wouldn’t come up to me on the street and pour popcorn on my head, because he knows what would happen,” Westbrook continued. “Guy wouldn’t come up to me and talk all that mess about my kids and my family on the street because the response would be different. In the arenas, we gotta start protecting the players, man. We’ll see what the NBA does.”
Lost in all the shuffle of that near-scuffle in the stands, is the fact that Westbrook did suffer what seems to be a serious ankle injury. He had tweaked this ankle recently, and doing it again on Wednesday most likely compounded the issue.
Russ did not practice on Friday and sounded less than confident about his ankle and noncommittal about his status for Game 3. With both Bradley Beal and Westbrook now at less than 100 percent for D.C. you can probably guess what our NBA pick is here for Game 3.
The Sixers are already clearly the better team, and now that both of Washington’s top dogs are dealing with health issues, it’s not even close. While I thought the Wiz might steal a couple of games when the series started, it doesn’t seem like they’ll have enough in the tank to take even one game from the mighty Sixers in this series.
It now seems like each of the big three in the East might be on the road to first-round sweeps, so the next two rounds in the East should be quite interesting. We like the Sixers to keep their foot on the gas in the nation’s capital with the Wiz suffering from so many injuries and cover a -5.5 NBA point spread at lovely -110 NBA odds as one of our best bets for today.
Game 4 (76ers leads series 3-0)
May 31, TBD, Capital One Arena
(Playoff Betting Record: 16-10, +5.34 Units)
Moving the series from the City of Brotherly Love to the nation’s capital didn’t do much to change the fortunes of either team in this series, with the underdog Washington Wizards getting their butts kicked by the Philadelphia 76ers the same way at home as they did on the road.
Washington has actually been getting further and further from their opponents with each passing game: they lost Game 1 by seven points, Game 2 they dropped by 25, and they were defeated by 29 points in Game 3. Yikes. That’s not exactly the kind of progression you want to see if you’re Washington head coach Scott Brooks and the rest of his coaching staff.
The Wizards are severely outmatched in seemingly every way in this series, and when you throw in the fact that D.C.’s top two players, Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal, are both dealing with injuries that are keeping them from going out there and competing at 100 percent, it’s just plain unfair.
Westbrook is dealing with an ankle sprain, though he played great in Game 3, and Beal continues to deal with a right hamstring issue that won’t be resolved until the offseason starts. For the Wiz, that could be Tuesday morning, as it seems more than likely that Joel Embiid and the Sixers will finish the job off and get the four-game sweep on Monday night in Washington, which is what we’re banking on for our NBA pick here.
They would become the second team to advance to the second round, after the third-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, who did so on Saturday afternoon. When these playoffs started, I was of the mind that there were several underdog teams in the East that were clearly outmatched in their first round series.
However, because those teams had some elite and experienced All-Star players on their rosters, I figured they could engineer a way to at least steal a game and avoid the embarrassment of the four-game sweep. Jayson Tatum did just that when he dropped 50 points in Game 3 for his Boston Celtics to give himself and the team a little bit of pride heading into the tail end of what looks to be a five-game series.
Jimmy Butler was unable to do that for his Miami Heat, as they were unceremoniously swept from the 2021 postseason with three consecutive losses of 15+ points. The Wizards, unfortunately, seem headed down the same path as Butler and friends rather than figuring it out for one game like Tatum and company did.
Westbrook had been having one of the most miserable stretches of his career—until that coward poured popcorn on his head, awakening the beast. Russ responded with 26 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 dimes on 50 percent shooting from the field and beyond the arc in Game 4, but it wasn’t nearly enough, which is why we like the Sixers as our top pick for Game 4.
Beal struggled in Game 3, shooting just 39 percent from the field while going 1-for-8 from deep. Beal has struggled from downtown all series long, putting up a combined 3-for-20 mark from long range.
Beal scored 33 points on 57 percent efficiency in Game 1 and another 33 on 50 percent from the field in Game 2, yet his team could not come up with a W. That has a lot to do with the rest of the team struggling even worse than Beal from beyond the arc. The struggles from downtown were even worse in Game 3.
Apart from Brodie, who went 3-for-6 from deep, and Rui Hachimura, who went 2-for-3 on long bombs, no other Wizards player hit multiple treys in Game 3, with the rest combining to go 3-for-26 from long distance. Considering they were 22nd in three-point efficiency during the regular season, a bounce back performance really should not be expected.
Not to mention that Philly was a top 10 team in terms of opponent three-point efficiency during the regular season, with two premier wing defenders in Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle as well as a solid on-ball guy in Danny Green causing problems for every Wizard that steps to that three-point line to fire one off.
It’s just not fair when you look at the other side. Embiid led the way with 36 points on 14-for-18 shooting, but his supporting cast was arguably just as good as he was in Game 3. Tobias Harris, Seth Curry, and Danny Green combined to go 10-for-18 from three-point land, which is exactly what they were brought in to do, and Simmons continues to have a solid series, contributing 14 points on 7-for-10 shooting to go with nine dimes.
Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers and his staff have Embiid and the boys absolutely rolling right now, and this hampered Wizards team is not going to be the one to slow them down. We like the Sixers to complete the sweep on Monday night, so we’re taking them on a -7.5 NBA point spread offering standard –110 NBA odds as one of our best bets for Monday night.
Game 5 (76ers leads series, 3-1)
June 2, 07:00p.m., Wells Fargo Center
(Playoff Betting Record: 19-13, +5.09 Units)
It really all depends on Joel Embiid’s health and whether he’ll be good enough to get out there with the Philadelphia 76ers for Game 5 on Wednesday night, just two days after suffering whatever injury it is that he picked up. It is definitely a very strange injury considering the developments that we have gotten.
Embiid began Game 4 doing his regular work, making life hell for every big man that Washington Wizards head coach Scott Brooks threw at him. Youngster Daniel Gafford started and picked up two quick fouls defending Embiid so he was replaced by Alex Len, who promptly did the exact same thing. That forced Brooks to third-stringer Robin Lopez very early in the game.
Late in the first quarter, Embiid charged into the paint on a headlong drive to the basket and was met in the air by Lopez, who made a nice defensive play. Embiid, however, landed strangely, seemingly landing hard on his backside/tailbone area. The big Cameroonian would remain in the game to score another bucket, but would not finish the frame.
He walked gingerly to the locker room, and once halftime came around, the public was notified that it was not a tailbone issue but instead knee soreness that forced Embiid out of the first half and kept him out during the second. So, maybe Embiid didn’t hurt himself at all during that hard tumble and this knee issue is a buildup thing?
My guess is as good as Philly head coach Doc Rivers’ as to how severe Embiid’s ailment is, which is to say we have no idea. Rivers did say that his MVP candidate is going in to get an MRI on Tuesday, which doesn’t generally bode well for a player’s availability for a game the very next day.
The questionable nature of Embiid’s availability for this Game 5 tussle in the City of Brotherly Love makes it very difficult to make just a single NBA pick on this clash. In light of that, we’re going to make sure we keep you guys prepared for both eventualities by giving you a top pick if Embiid does play as well as one that we’d go for if he doesn’t end up suiting up.
The latter is definitely more likely. However, if the seven-footer does somehow get out there, he will be doing so at or near 100 percent, and Washington has shown zero ability to stop that guy through 3+ games. Gafford has the potential to possibly turn into a foil down low for the Wiz eventually, but not this season.
If Embiid plays, that opens the rest of the floor for everyone else, which means more open three-point shots for their gaggle of three-point marksmen such as Danny Green, Seth Curry, Tyrese Maxey and others. Embiid’s body has earned him a reputation as one of the most frail guys in the NBA today, so it seems unlikely that he will play, but if he does get back in there, it’s a wrap.
Washington has no answer for Embiid, so if he plays, we’d expect the 76ers to finish off the series in front of their rabid home crowd. Take Philly at a -7.5 NBA point spread at solid -102 NBA odds if Embiid gets out there with his teammates.
However, if he doesn’t play, which seems like the more probable scenario after the news that he’s getting an MRI on the sore knee, you can expect the Wizards to come out firing on all cylinders. They know that if they want to be the first team in NBA history to come back and win after being down 3-0, they’ll need to take advantage of every game where Embiid doesn’t play.
And if the final three quarters of Game 4 are any indication, the Sixers are a complete mess without Embiid, especially on the offensive end. There is a ton of indecision coming from Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons couldn’t touch the ball lest he be hacked and sent to the free throw line, where he is 5-for-20 in this series so far, and guys like Seth Curry and Danny Green excel as spot up shooters, not when they have to create their own shot.
Russell Westbrook also had a ghastly night shooting from the field, and we’d expect him to bounce back and find his shooting rhythm before this series is done and dusted. Game 5 seems like a great place to start. If Embiid is ruled out, the odds are likely to change, but as of this writing, we like the Wiz to win this game straight up at big-time +235 NBA odds.
If the Wizards get listed as the favorites if Embiid is ruled out, we would suggest a three to four point spread, but if they remain the underdogs, just go with the straight up moneyline and reap those extra rewards, because the Wiz against an Embiid-less Philly is definitely one of our best bets for today.
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Alex is an alumnus of Ryerson University's RTA Sport Media program, a contributing NHL, NBA, and MLB writer in the BetPicks.ca team. He has been writing on sports, betting, and fantasy contests for several years, including pitstops as an NFL Editor for theScore and as one of the lead NBA news writers for fantasy sports site FantasyPros. As a lifelong athlete, bettor, and sports fan, Alex is uniquely qualified to help you reach the sports betting success that you've always dreamed of and your wife never believed you could achieve.