Ultimate Preview for Friday NBA: Cavs-76ers and Pacers-Raptors
With the Kyrie Irving injury news, the whole Eastern Conference feels like it has life again. We gave our thoughts on the shifting sands there Thursday afternoon, but now let’s dive into two important matchups among Eastern playoff teams tonight.
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS AT PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (-3.5) | O/U: 223
7 p.m. ET
It’s a big game in Philly tonight, and while real estate may be on the minds of some unnamed players, most guys have their eyes on the standings, as third place is a possibility for either team. With both clubs hot as hell right now, here are important metrics and trends you need to know for tonight’s game. — Mark Gallant
The Battle Isn’t Just On the Court
Are the Cavs flipping the switch? Both the Cavaliers (now after their trades) and the Sixers have long, athletic rosters that can switch off-ball when teams try and create open looks. The problem, of course, is that Cleveland often screws up these mechanisms, particularly off-ball.
Philadelphia uses a lot of off-ball movement, and if Cleveland continues to mess up those kinds of mechanics it’ll make for a long night.
Meanwhile, how much do these teams show each other? The odds of their meeting in the playoffs are slim at this point, but do you want to show Philly how you would scheme Ben Simmons to force his jumper? Do you test out trying to layer your defense and funnel LeBron James to a specific spot? Whoever wins this game very likely secures the 3-seed and a shot at that Celtics vs. Whoever winner — both much easier matchups than Toronto in Round 2.
If you wind up facing each other, you don’t want to tip your hand, but there are stakes here. A lot of mental math to figure out. — Matt Moore
Don’t Be Fooled by the 76ers’ Recent Streak
The 76ers have played four games since Joel Embiid went down with an injury, and they’ve dominated the league in that time. During that span, they rank first with a ridiculous +16.5 net rating, and they’ve been especially fantastic defensively, allowing only 92.8 points per 100 possessions. That said, their games came against Atlanta, Charlotte, Brooklyn and Detroit; that’s an Eastern Conference pu pu platter if I’ve ever seen one. And the overall trends with Embiid off the court aren’t pretty: The 76ers have been 14.6 points/100 worse with him off the floor this season, which is split evenly on offense and defense; they’ve been 7.0 points/100 worse on offense and 7.6 points/100 worse on defense without him. I’m expecting to see more struggles than they’ve had over their past four games now that they’re facing an actual NBA team in the Cavs. — Bryan Mears
In Good Late-Season Matchups, Target the Favorite
Since 2005, when good teams (win rate of 60% or higher) play in April, the underdog is 68-93-2 (42%) against the spread. — John Ewing
Target the Embiid-less 76ers Value in DFS
The 76ers are still playing without Embiid, which makes them an ideal DFS target against Cleveland’s awful defense. The Cavs are 28th in defensive efficiency this season, and the 76ers’ implied team total of 113.25 is the second-highest mark on the slate. Four of the five highest-rated DraftKings players in the Phan Model play for the 76ers, headlined by Ben Simmons. He’s seen a bump to his usage, assist and rebound rates in games without Embiid this season, resulting in an average FantasyLabs Plus/Minus of +1.90. He has an outstanding individual matchup against the Cavs, evidenced by an Opponent Plus/Minus of +4.43, and his 10 Pro Trends are tied for the top mark on the slate. — Matt LaMarca
LeBron Will Have His Hands Full Stopping Philly’s Streak
The 76ers have won 12 consecutive games straight-up. Since 2005, LeBron James has faced a team on a double-digit winning streak in the regular season just four times. His teams are 1-3 SU and 2-2 ATS (lost three consecutive games SU), with James averaging 35.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG and 5.8 APG in those four contests. This is just the second time he will face an Eastern Conference team on such a streak. The first time was against the 2005-06 Nets with Vince Carter and Jason Kidd on the roster. — Evan Abrams
INDIANA PACERS AT TORONTO RAPTORS (-8) | O/U: 208.5
7:30 p.m. ET
For most of the year, everyone was high on the Celtics. And for good reason. Meanwhile, the Raptors waited in the wings, quietly winning games and keeping pace. Now, they are locked into the No. 1 seed and just got some great news, as Kyrie Irving is done for the season. They should get a chance at redemption in the Eastern Conference Finals, but tonight they have to host the Pacers, who are still fighting for position in the standings. — Mark Gallant
Nothing Will Come Easy for Indy
Nothing easy. The Raptors are the No. 1 transition team, and, while the Pacers don’t run crazy fast, they are fifth in transition points per possession and just 15th overall. The Pacers do a great job of forcing tempo and punishing mistakes, but Toronto’s been excellent this year at limiting those opportunities. That’s the key test. The Raps are a superior version of Indiana in a lot of ways, so if they can choke off the easy stuff from the Pacers they should be able to limit their offense and outpace them (no pun intended).
Toronto secures the No. 1 seed in the East with a win. — Matt Moore
The Raptors Have a Big Edge on the Offensive Glass
The Pacers remain scrappy, having won six of their past seven, including two victories against Golden State. They’re 7-6 ATS this season on back-to-backs and 4-3 on the road in that situation. They’ve played Toronto tight in all three games this season and really locked down on the Raptors’ half-court offense in their most recent affair. The Raps scored just 95.7 points/100 in the half court in that one, and they shot just 26.3% from midrange. Still, they were able to pull out a win by pounding the glass — they rebounded an astounding 43.5% of their misses — and getting to the line, posting a 30.0% free-throw rate. Both of those marks ranked in the 90th-plus percentile of games this season, which is a problem for Indiana. The Pacers struggle against big men (read more on that below), so it could be open season on the glass again. — Bryan Mears
Toronto Wins at Home, But Covering Is a Different Story
Toronto is an NBA-best 32-7 SU at home this season but 20-19 ATS. The Raps have failed to cover five of their past six games. — John Ewing
The Pacers Struggle to Defend Big Men
Jonas Valanciunas could be an intriguing contrarian option on today’s slate. He hasn’t been great from a fantasy perspective recently, posting an average Plus/Minus of -2.38 on DraftKings, but his salary has decreased by $900 over that time frame. He has a nice matchup today against the Pacers, evidenced by an Opponent Plus/Minus of +4.69. He’s crushed the Raptors over the past three seasons, averaging 31.85 DraftKings points and a +5.22 Plus/Minus over 15 games. — Matt LaMarca
The Raps Have Recently Dominated the Pacers ATS
Including the playoffs, the Raptors are 11-1 SU against the Pacers at home since 2013-14. In just the regular season over that span, Toronto is 8-0 SU and 7-1 ATS against Indiana, covering by 9.6 PPG. — Evan Abrams
Photo credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports