By Mark Strotman | | 14 mins
Sixers' NBA Title Odds Rise & Fall With Joel Embiid: The Real NBA MVP
What a difference a 28-year-old MVP candidate can make, huh?
Sure, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news Monday that Nikola Jokic - the MVP favorite according to NBA futures odds - will win the award for the second straight year, but Joel Embiid is proving he's the real MVP (he got my vote) while Jokic watches from his couch.
Embiid returned to the Philadelphia 76ers lineup over the weekend, just in time for the dominant center to save his team’s season. The Sixers, who trailed the top-seeded Miami Heat 2-0 heading back to Philadelphia, earned a pair of victories with Embiid back in the lineup and have serious momentum heading back to South Beach for Game 5 on Tuesday.
NBA betting oddmakers are taking notice, too. With Embiid back in the lineup and the series evened up, the Sixers’ odds have vaulted from +300 on betting sites before the series began to +125 heading into Game 5. Philadelphia’s NBA championship odds, which were as high as +3000 after Embiid’s injury was announced, are now just +1600.
Sixers-Heat Series Odds
Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook as of 5/9
Sixers Back In Business Thanks to Embiid
The Sixers, as expected, were rather lifeless in Games 1 and 2 without their MVP candidate. Embiid averaged 26.2 points and 11.3 rebounds in Round 1 against the Toronto Raptors; Embiid was +50 on the floor, and Philadelphia was +0 with him on the bench. But against a much more difficult Miami team, the Embiid-less Sixers suffered lifeless losses of 14 and 16 points.
Embiid returned to the lineup for Game 3—after a bit of gamesmanship from the Sixers that wound up costing them $50,000—and made an immediate impact. Though his numbers weren’t eye-popping—18 points, 11 rebounds in 36 minutes—his presence was felt everywhere. He was even better in Game 4, going for 24 points and 11 rebounds in 38 minutes.
Embiid is the MVP of Twitter, as well, and has been for years. After he returned last Friday, he posted a meme that is a reference to the legendary HBO show The Wire in which Stringer Bell is letting everyone know he's back in business. Message received.
Sixers NBA Title Odds With/Without Joel Embiid
How much of a difference maker is Embiid? In the postseason, Philadelphia’s defensive rating with Embiid on the court is 107.1. When Embiid is off the floor, its defensive rating is 118.3.
The 107.1 rating with Embiid would have ranked fourth in the NBA this season; the 118.3 number with him off the floor would have ranked dead last. Embiid is the scoring champion, but his defensive effort has been just as important. Which leads us to ...
The Heat Can’t Shoot Anymore
Embiid may be making life difficult around the rim for opposing offenses, but the new issue in Miami is beyond the arc.
The Heat led the NBA in 3-point percentage, connecting on 38% of their triple attempts. They were also fifth in effective field goal percentage (54.7%), which weighs 3-point makes more heavily.
The postseason has been a different story. To say the least. Miami is shooting 32% from deep, worst of the eight teams remaining, and their effective field goal percentage is 52.2%—third worst among current playoff teams.
Just go inside then, right? Not so easy with Embiid back. Consider that Miami attempted 58 shots inside 5 feet in Games 1 and 2. With Embiid back for Games 3 and 4, Miami attempted just 39 shots from that range. Outside of Jimmy Butler, who had a spectacular 40-point outing in Sunday’s Game 4 loss, Miami doesn’t have another true creator.
Kyle Lowry remains hobbled, and Bam Adebayo does most of his work around the rim. Philadelphia is starting to heat up on offense…and there’s real concern that Miami can’t keep up with these poor shooting performances.
James Harden Is Starting To Feel It
The Sixers offense hasn’t just heated up because Embiid has returned. It looks like James Harden might be exercising some postseason demons with his recent play.
Though he didn’t exactly wow anyone with his performances in Games 1 and 2 as the lead man—18.0 points and 7.0 assists in two losses—he’s still averaging a healthy 19.8 points and 9.0 assists in the postseason. His Game 4 performance of 31 points, including six triples, felt like vintage Harden we remember seeing in Houston.
If Harden can find that magic from a few years ago, the Sixers are more than a tough out—they’re the favorites in this series. Miami simply doesn’t have the offensive firepower to match two scoring champions playing at their peak.
Oddsmakers aren’t ready to crown Philadelphia yet, especially with Game 5 shifting back to Miami where the Heat were 29-12 in the regular season and are 5-0 in the postseason.
The Sixers winning the series will require a victory in Miami—and that won’t come easily. But the series is a whole lot more interesting tied 2-2 with a healthy Embiid back in the lineup for Doc Rivers’ group.
Heat vs. Sixers Series Schedule
- Game 5 Sixers at Heat Tuesday, May 10 7:30 pm.
- Game 6 Heat at Sixers Thursday, May 12 7:00 pm.
- Game 7 Sixers at Heat Sunday, May 15 TBD*