Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:58 AM

Thursday's Playoff Essentials

Predictions | Second-Round Odds | Playoff Trends

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Eastern Conference Semifinals – Game 6 -- Raptors lead 3-2
No. 2 Toronto (-2/213) at No. 3 Philadelphia, ESPN, 8:05 p.m. ET
May 7 – Raptors (-6) 125 vs. 76ers 89 (Over 212.5)
May 5 – Raptors (+2) 101 at 76ers 96 (Under 216)
May 2 – 76ers (+1.5) 116 vs. Raptors 95 (Under 216.5)
April 29 – 76ers (+7.5) 97 at Raptors 89 (Under 220)
April 27 – Raptors (-6.5) 108 vs. 76ers 95 (Under 223)

Feb. 5 - Raptors (+2.5) 119 at 76ers 107 (Under 231)
Dec. 22 – 76ers (-7.5) 126 vs. Raptors 101 (Over 222.5)
Dec. 5 - Raptors (-6.5) 113 vs. 76ers 102 (Under 229)
Oct. 30 - Raptors (-6) 129 vs. 76ers 112 (Over 227.5)

The 76ers entered this postseason as a popular choice to stun everyone and win the Eastern Conference.

They’re one loss away from coming out of it with everyone’s star shining a little dimmer.

Joel Embiid hasn’t been himself since before the All-Star break but has shown flashes of the game-breaking brilliance he put on display before his knee issues intensified to have Philadelphia up 2-1 in this very series. Then he fell ill. Unlucky, but unfortunately, the game stops for no one. He’s looked like a shell of himself over the past few games and his team has suffered.

Ben Simmons, who you would expect to step up to help make Embiid’s burden easier, has instead regressed. He’s taken a backseat to Jimmy Butler and is incredibly averaging 9.4 points and 4.6 assists in the series. Butler, who may leave for L.A. as a free agent this summer, has emerged as the leader Simmons is supposed to be and at this stage in their careers, is better-suited for the role.

Tobias Harris and J.J. Redick haven’t gotten off in the same game once in this series, which has been a major factor in the offense bogging down as often as it has. Redicks missed five of six looks in Game 5 and ended up a minus-21 for the game. James Ennis came off the bench to miss all four of his shots in 23 minutes and wound up a minus-30.

The Raptors imposed their will on Tuesday night thanks to a 20-point second-quarter advantage, holding Philadelphia to 6-for-24 from 3-point range for the game. The Sixers couldn’t have played worse, so if you’re into the bounce-back factor, getting back home and seeing a few shots drop early could get them going as they look to avoid elimination. Because of Simmons shrinking and Embiid looking drained, Brett Brown has ridden Butler as his catalyst, so ball movement has suffered. They’ve got to get back to sharing the ball and creating open looks for one another, but you have to wonder whether that’s going to be possible with the Raptors as locked in as they’ve been.

The Raptors have been locked in on the defensive end since falling behind in the series and have seen Pascal Siakam impressively make a huge difference despite being at less than 100 percent due to a calf shooting the ball poorly from beyond the arc. A more complete effort helped take some of the pressure off Kawhi Leonard, who has made a strong case for being the NBA’s best player in this series. With Danny Green knocking down five of seven 3-point shots, Toronto crushed the 76ers, handing them their worst playoff loss since the 1982 Finals.

Coming back from that starts with Embiid, who is getting no sympathy despite his plight. Charles Barkley eloquently captured the general consensus of his impact on the 76ers since dominating Game 3, commenting that “he walks around like he’s on his death bed. He drains the energy out of the team.” He should be in better condition for this first elimination game that Philadelphia has come up against this season. Last year’s team went 1-1 when facing the end of their season, avoiding a sweep in the conference semifinals against the Celtics with a 103-92 home win before being eliminated in Boston last May 9.

You might remember how that game ended, with Embiid missing a pair of shots right around the basket late before being stripped by Terry Rozier, who knocked the ball of his leg. Boston held on 114-112.

The top scorer in both of those elimination games was Dario Saric, which may say something about Embiid and Simmons, who had chances to extend that series and fell to the Kyrie Irving-less Celtics 4-1. Embiid said last season that the next step in the “process” after finally reaching the playoffs last season was to make the conference finals. The 76ers are in danger of failing to attain their season goal.

Saric was dealt away in the Butler deal, which might end up being a rental if he bolts for L.A. It will be interesting to see how this version of the 76ers handles the desperation of a close-out game, especially with guys who have plenty of experience putting teams away on the other side. Kyle Lowry, Siakam and Serge Ibaka have done their share of winning over the past few seasons, while first-year Raptors Leonard, Green and Marc Gasol have been in this situation a bunch over their careers. NBA expert Kevin Rogers spotted a trend that may have you riding a low-scoring affair.

“The Raptors have played in five road Game 6’s since the 2014 playoffs and there is one common thread through those contests,” Rogers said. “Toronto has scored 92 points or fewer in four of those games, while all five have finished ‘under’ the total. However, the Raptors have advanced in each of the last two seasons when leading a series, 3-2 on the road by beating Milwaukee in the 2017 first round and eliminating Washington in the 2018 opening round.”

If Embiid is in better spirits and the 76ers don’t fumble away the ball early, they’ve got a shot at a return trip to Toronto, which the 7-footer promised rapper Drake would happen as he left the floor for the final time on Tuesday night. No one is feeling much empathy for Embiid since he was so demonstrative during his dominant Game 3 effort and continues to keep up the bravado despite not backing his words up on the floor. He and Simmons had combined for more turnovers (12) than buckets (8) through the first three quarters of Game 5, part of a collective meltdown from a team now looking to prove it has indeed made strides despite the moment currently looking too big for their young stars.

Philadelphia won Game 3 as a 1.5-point home underdog, posting their first victory in that role after going 0-2 straight up during the regular-season (1-1 ATS) in games against the visiting Warriors and Bucks. Including the results from this series, Toronto has seen the ‘under’ go 8-2 in the postseason while Philadelphia is 7-3 to the low side.

Western Conference Semifinals – Game 6 -- Nuggets lead 3-2
No. 2 Denver at No. 3 Portland (-4/215.5), ESPN, 10:35 p.m. ET
May 7 – Nuggets (-5) 124 vs. Blazers 98 (Over 213)
May 5 – Nuggets (+3) 116 at Blazers 112 (Over 211)
May 3 – Blazers (-5) 140 vs. Nuggets 137 (Over 215)
May 1 – Blazers (+4) 97 at Nuggets 90 (Under 219.5)
April 29 – Nuggets (-4) 121 vs. Blazers 113 (Over 215.5)

April 7 – Blazers (-8.5) 115 vs. Nuggets 108 (Under 219.5)
April 5 – Nuggets (-6) 119 vs. Blazers 110 (Over 216)
Jan. 13 – Nuggets (-4.5) 116 vs. Blazers 113 (Over 217)
Nov. 30 – Nuggets (+1.5) 113 at Blazers 112 (Over 214)

It’s hard to believe the Trail Blazers could see their season end at home given all they’ve accomplished there just this postseason, having owned the Thunder and pulled off a four-overtime win in this very series. Their last result at Moda Center helped fumble back homecourt advantage to Denver, which is now poised to make its first conference finals appearance since 2009. It would be just the Nuggets’ third trip since they arrived from the ABA in the late 1970’s and their first since 1985.

Damian Lillard has to find the range from beyond the arc to prevent the visitors from celebrating on his home floor. Lillard has shot under 40 percent over the past four games after a Game 1 effort that saw him score 39 points. He finished 4-for-12 from 3-point range in that opener, which has actually been his most effective shooting game from beyond in the arc in this series.

Lillard is shooting 33-for-84 since the opener, which includes a 7-for-30 (23.3 percent) showing from 3-point range. Despite this, he didn’t rule out a 50-point game when asked about the possibility the other night, responding “with our season on the line and knowing we’ve got to have two games in a row, you never know.”

Teammate CJ McCollum has been terrific for most of the series but shot just 5-for-16, while the steady Al-Farouq Aminu missed seven of eight. Enes Kanter has been dealing with a shoulder issue suffered against the Thunder but has played through it and had been a major factor in at least making Denver All-Star center Nikola Jokic work, but he’s worn down over the last few contests, averaging just six points over the last two games. It will be interesting to see if Terry Stotts goes small at home if Kanter can’t get it going, especially since Game 5 saw them get so thoroughly dominated in the paint, where they were outscored 66-44 and outrebounded 62-44.

Jokic is making that “Big Honey” nickname stick with his fabulous work, averaging 26.4 points, 14.6 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the series. With Jamal Murray looking healthier after suffering an ankle injury and the two guys with the most playoff experience on the team, Paul Millsap and Will Barton, really stepping up, Denver has really imposed their will against the Blazers and never trailed in Game 5, winning every quarter until the fourth when the outcome had already been decided.

The Nuggets opened the series as a slight favorite (-145) over the Trail Blazers (+125) according to Westgate, but now would be the time to go all-in on the Blazers if you believe they’ve got a comeback in them since their series price is up at 3-to-1.

Lillard played in all four regular-season meetings against Denver, averaging 21.3 points but shooting just 37 percent from the field and 28.6 from 3-point range. He’s got to find a way to get going early and go on one of those scoring flurries that swung the Thunder series in Portland’s direction. Lillard shot 40 percent from 3-point range at home as opposed to 34 percent on the road during the regular season and despite scoring roughly the same amount of points per game, so if he’s going to snap out of his slump, tonight figures to be the night.

Portland has dropped 10 of 13 against Denver dating back to last season. The ‘over’ is 4-1 in the series and is 8-3 in the last 11 playoff games involving Denver. The high side is on a 5-1 run in Blazers’ games.

The total for Game 6 opened at 215 and that number has held steady as of Thursday morning. totals expert Chris David weighs in on tonight’s matchup.

“Of the four conference semifinal matchups, this has been the best ‘over’ series among them as the high side has gone 4-1 in the first five games. The books have tinkered with the totals a little bit and Thursday’s number is up a couple points from both Game 4 (211) and 5 (213),” said David. “During the regular season, Denver watched the ‘under’ go 25-16 (61%) away from home but that trend has been tossed out the window in the playoffs. The ‘over’ has connected in all five road games for the Nuggets and we’ve seen an average combined score of 234.8 points per game. That number was certainly helped with the 140-137 overtime matchup in Game 3 of this series, but even if you take out that result, you’re looking at 224.3 PPG average.

“Knowing the Nuggets haven’t won a playoff series on the road since 1994, it could have you hesitating to back the visitor here. And, if you’re leaning Portland than you’re expecting an offensive surge especially after being held to 98 in Game 5. My lean would be to the latter and I believe the Trail Blazers Team Total (109 ½) is a solid look.”

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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