Empathy For Blazers Backers In First Half & Kudos To Sixers Bettors

Matthew Jordan

Friday, February 17, 2017 9:41 PM UTC

Friday, Feb. 17, 2017 9:41 PM UTC

Now that we are at the NBA’s All-Star break, it’s clear that teams are who they are at this point. Thus my apologies if you bet on the Portland Trail Blazers nightly in the first half of the season, and congratulations if your frequent choice was the Philadelphia 76ers.

So-called expert NBA prognosticators sometimes know little more than you do. Last season, just about every “expert” projected the Portland Trail Blazers to be one of the worst teams in the Western Conference after losing four starters in free agency/trades the previous offseason. However, the Blazers won 44 games in 2015-16 and upset the Los Angeles Clippers – albeit because Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were hurt – in the first round of the playoffs.

Entering this season, the Blazers had an ‘over/under’ wins total of 45.5 on NBA picks at SBR Forum’s top sportsbooks. They brought back one of the best backcourts in the NBA in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, re-signed a few key guys and added free agents Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli. Yet entering the second half of the season, the Blazers are just 23-33 and have the worst ATS record in the league at 22-34 (Bucks right behind at 22-33 ATS).

What happened? Lillard and McCollum have been great in averaging 25.7 points and 23.4 points, respectively. It’s still the West’s best offensive backcourt outside of Golden State. Portland’s problem is it stinks defensively and has no inside presence whatsoever. Ezeli, a good post defender, hasn’t played yet due to knee trouble and isn’t expected to this season – he might be traded in a salary dump by the Feb. 23 trade deadline. Turner has been a bust, and he’s currently injured.

The Blazers might have punted on the season in recently trading Mason Plumlee, who was fourth on the team in scoring (11.1 ppg), first in rebounding (8.0 rpg) and second in assists (4.0 apg), to Denver for center Jusuf Nurkic, a bit of a project, and a 2017 first-round pick that comes via Memphis. Now Portland has three-first round picks this year: theirs, the Grizzlies’ and Cleveland’s. It’s a great draft to have multiple picks.

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Embiid Helping Turn 76ers Around

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers are much improved this year but still have the fifth-worst record in the NBA at 21-35. That said, they also have the top ATS record at 34-22. Some of that is the sportsbooks continually have the 76ers as huge underdogs and they play well enough to lose but cover. Certainly some of that is also because of rookie center Joel Embiid, who has played like a future superstar when healthy.

It's Embiid’s health that likely determines whether the Sixers continue to be good NBA bet in the second half. He has missed 14 of the past 15 games, and there was some talk the team might shut him down for good with a slightly torn meniscus. Coach Brett Brown said Embiid will play again this season, but it’s not his call. (Side note: Will Embiid still win Rookie of the Year if he doesn’t take the floor again? He might.?) It’s also not Brown’s call on 2016 No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons, who broke his foot in training camp and has yet to debut. It’s probably 50-50 on whether the team lets him play this year. Brown says he thinks Simmons will, but the front office will decide.

If I’m the Philly GM, I’m taking no chances on my future franchise players (assuming Simmons is as good as advertised) and don’t mind losing as often in possible in the second half to get another high lottery pick. The best scenario would have Philly picking No. 1 and No. 4 in a loaded draft: they win the lottery and the Lakers slip to No. 4. The 76ers get L.A.’s pick if it’s outside the Top 3.

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