Eastern Conference – No. 2 Knicks vs No. 7 76ers

In the 2 vs. 7 matchup in the Eastern Conference, the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers clash in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs. Keep reading for a preview and prediction for this series. And make sure you check out our NBA Playoffs Betting Guide, which will serve as the hub for all of our postseason betting content! Also, check out our NBA Playoffs Betting Primer, which features tons of in-depth analysis for the entire postseason.

Knicks vs. 76ers Series Preview

There are many who have expressed confusion as to why New York is an underdog in this series against Philadelphia. The Knicks are the second seed in the Eastern Conference and the sixth-best cover team in the league (44-36-2 ATS, 55.0%). The 76ers are the seventh seed, and they barely escaped the play-in on Tuesday against the Heat, who were missing a starter and had another injured in Jimmy Butler. That confusion manifested in early support for New York, and the market has now flipped the price on the series at multiple shops.

 

Let’s be clear: New York does deserve that respect. Despite numerous injuries throughout the season, the Knicks finished fifth in non-garbage time net rating (+4.9). Tom Thibodeau’s teams are known for their defense – and New York did finish 10th in defensive efficiency – but this team was a very good offensive team. They finished seventh in non-garbage time offensive efficiency (118.8). Jalen Brunson was the reason this team was so good on that end of the floor, and his play will dictate whether the Knicks can win this series.

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Brunson is an elite mid-range scorer. He took 36% of his attempts from short mid-range (4-to-14 feet) and shot 51.6% on those attempts. Brunson’s ability to attack that area of the floor is going to be massively impactful against Philadelphia’s defense. With Joel Embiid on the floor the 76ers play drop coverage primarily. Embiid is usually good enough on that end to play that coverage at a high level, but he is clearly not healthy right now. Against Miami, Embiid played extremely deep, which allowed Tyler Herro to abuse the 76ers’ defense at times. If he continues to play defense that way this will be a series in which Brunson can feast.

The Knicks’ defense is hardly just Brunson though. They are an elite shooting team. New York takes 37.4% of their attempts from beyond the arc, and they shoot 37.3%. Miles McBride, Donte DiVincenzo and Jalen Brunson are all 40% 3-point shooters. OG Anunoby shot 39% in a Knicks uniform. New York’s ability to shoot gives them the edge in a pure numbers game with a Philadelphia squad which takes 2.5 fewer attempts from deep per game and makes 1.1 fewer.

Whether the Knicks prevail in this series will come down to how Isaiah Hartenstein and Mitchell Robinson play on the defensive end. Injured or not, Embiid is still an elite offensive player. When he was on the floor for the 76ers in the regular season they averaged 120.7 points per 100 possessions. He is also elite at getting to the free throw line, and both Hartenstein (2.8 fouls per game) and Robinson (1.8 fouls per game) will have to avoid foul trouble throughout this series.

Philadelphia also has elite lineups to roll out against New York’s defense. Their best starting lineup with Embiid – Tyrese Maxey, DeAnthony Melton, Nic Batum and Tobias Harris – has a +33.3 net rating and averaged 137.3 points per 100 possessions. Melton’s health is a question for this series, but that quartet without Melton still averages 121.7 points per 100 possessions. Even if Embiid is not fully healthy, this is a group that can challenge any defense in the NBA.

Ultimately, the market is on the right track here. Homecourt is extremely valuable in the postseason, and New York has that in this series. Its edge in 3-point shooting should go a long way over the course of a series. Brunson’s style of play is a perfect way to attack Embiid on defense, and Embiid’s overall health is a concern. The Knicks will likely close as a consensus favorite here, and for good reason.

Lean: Knicks to win series (-110)

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