Weekend Preview

April 20, 2024

NBA: (7) Philadelphia 76ers at (2) New York Knicks

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It’s not often that a team like the Philadelphia 76ers end up as a No, 7 seed come playoff time. With last year’s MVP in Joel Embiid on their team, they are poised for a deep playoff run.

The 30-year-old Embiid will be healthy for the playoffs after tearing his meniscus in January. He made his return on April 2 and has missed just one game since.

In their play-in game against the Miami Heat on Wednesday, Embiid put up 23 points, 15 rebounds and five assists to help the Sixers get the win. It was a huge win, as they will now face the New York Knicks as opposed to the Boston Celtics, who are far and away the top team in the East.

The Knicks were able to secure the No. 2 seed in the East by just one game. Their 52-30 record is their best mark since the 2012-13 season.

Jalen Brunson has been their X-factor. He is averaging just under 29.0 points per game, along with 6.7 assists. He is one of the league’s top players and will undoubtedly be the focal point of much of the 76ers defensive game plan. He is an all-around player who can go off for 50-plus points at any given time.

But without his right-hand man, Julius Randle, Brunson will have to take his game even further if he wants to give his team a shot. Randle went down for the season with a dislocated shoulder after a game against Miami on January 27.

The All-Star power forward was averaging 24.0 points per game, along with 9.2 rebounds. The Knicks have gone 21-14 since his injury.

New York has played Philadelphia three times since Randle’s injury and have won two of them. However, Embiid was absent for those games. So, there has not been a single matchup between these two teams in which Randle was out and Embiid both played. Thus, there is really no way of predicting how this game will go.

The Knicks enter the game as 3.0-point home favorites, which is fairly standard for a close matchup such as this one. They are -140 on the moneyline but opened at -165.

Jason Schlefsky’s Pick: Philadelphia ML (+140) 

Both the Knicks and the 76ers have dealt with injuries to star players and have had surprising seasons to say the least. This series feels much more like a No. 4 versus a No. 5 then a 2-7 matchup. It will be an intense series with an expectation for high volume scoring nights from Embiid and Brunson. The Knicks are looking to prove they belong while the 76ers are aiming to finally get it done and make it to the NBA finals. The value lies within the underdog. Last year’s MVP and the likely most improved player in Tyrese Maxey taking on an injured Knicks team? Take the Sixers all day long.


NBA: (7) Los Angeles Lakers at (2) Denver Nuggets

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The Denver Nuggets have won eight straight games against the Los Angeles Lakers dating back to the 2022-23 regular season. Denver went 3-0 against the Lakers this season and swept them in the Western Conference finals a season ago.

Now, Los Angeles will have a chance for revenge, as they will play each other in the first round of the playoffs. Denver comes into the series as the No. 2 seed and tied for the best record in the West. The Lakers enter as the No. 7 seed in the West after defeating the New Orleans Pelicans at home on Tuesday in the play-in tournament. It’s the nightcap for a reason; this series should be fun to watch.

The likely Most Valuable Player this season is once again Nikola Jokic. The 29-year-old Serbian is set to win his third MVP award after having yet another career year. He averaged a near triple-double, as he scored 26.4 points per game, while also grabbing 12.4 rebounds and dishing out nine assists.

Jokic is the backbone of the defending champions, but he isn’t the only one contributing to the team’s success. Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope make up quite possibly the most dangerous starting five in the entire NBA. It’s the same group that the Lakers got swept by a year ago.

But the Lakers are a better team than they were last year. They enter the playoffs as the same seed, but they won four more games during the regular season this year than they did a season ago.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis continue to lead the pack, scoring more than 24.0 points per game each. D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura contribute another 48.0 PPG combined.

As a team, the Lakers score 118.0 per night, but give up 117.4. That 0.6-point differential is far worse than the Nuggets, who boast a +5.3. Denver also averages more rebounds and assists per game than Los Angeles.

Jason Schlefsky’s Pick: Denver -7.0 (-110)

The key to this game comes within the defense of Denver. The Nuggets rank sixth in total defense while the Lakers rank 23rd. The size of Denver matches up extremely well with Los Angeles and their role players consistently out-play the Lakers. Nikola Jokic is the best player in the world and seems to have Anthony Davis and L.A.’s defense figured out. It’s likely that the Lakers throw something different at him this time around and it’s unlikely that we’ll see another sweep. But as the game line of -7.0 suggests, the Nuggets are poised to get the win in Game 1.

And Keep an Eye On…

NBA: (5) Dallas Mavericks at (4) Los Angeles Clippers (Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET)

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This is a tremendous first-round matchup in the West. The star-studded Clippers are trying to finally put it together in the postseason, while the upstart Mavericks are looking to show that their a legit contender. Luka Doncic is an MVP candidate, leading the Mavericks in scoring, rebounding and assists. He has some help this time around, as Kyrie Irving is a proven playoff performer. Kawhi Leonard and James Harden will try to keep pace.


NBA: (6) Phoenix Suns at (3) Minnesota Timberwolves (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET)

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Minnesota lost a late-season game to Phoenix, which caused them to fall to the No. 3 seed in the West. Who do they get in the first round? Those same Suns. The Timberwolves are a defensive-minded team, with Rudy Gobert in the middle. But they’ll have their hands full trying to slow down Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal. Anthony Edwards is a rising star, however, in Minnesota. And if Karl-Anthony Towns is back to full speed, they’ll be a tough matchup for a Phoenix team that isn’t great inside.


NBA: Indiana Pacers at Milwaukee Bucks (Sunday, 7:00 p.m. ET)

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The Bucks limped into the postseason, going 3-7 in their final 10 games to fall to the No. 3 seed in the East. They’ll draw a Pacers team in the first round that had the opposite finish, as Indiana went 7-3 down the stretch to avoid the play-in tournament. Both teams have stars. Giannis Antekounmpo is a household name. Tyrese Haliburton will be soon. This series could be fascinating, as Doc Rivers tries to prove that Milwaukee made a good decision to bring in the veteran head coach during the season.