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76ers vs. Lakers NBA Odds, Picks, Predictions: Wait on Kawhi Leonard’s Status (March 27)

76ers vs. Lakers NBA Odds, Picks, Predictions: Wait on Kawhi Leonard’s Status (March 27) article feature image

Noah Graham/Getty Images. Pictured: Ben Simmons of the 76ers.

  • What was originally slated to be a blockuster matchup, is now a game missing three out of four of its biggest stars.
  • The Lakers are yet to win this season without LeBron and Anthony Davis on the floor, while the Sixers don't appear to be missing Joel Embiid much.
  • Brandon Anderson explains why he's focusing on the Lakers' total in Thursday's matchup.

76ers vs. Lakers Odds

76ers Odds-4.5
Lakers Odds+4.5
Moneyline-186 / +155
TimeThursday, 10 p.m. ET
Odds as of Wednesday and via DraftKings

LeBron James! Joel Embiid! Anthony Davis!

They’ll be watching this one too, right there along with the rest of us!

Fine, so this game isn’t exactly what it should have been. We were supposed to be getting an awesome battle between the two leading MVP candidates and a potential Finals preview between two of the league’s best teams. Instead, we won’t see either MVP candidate suit up for this one, and it better not be a Finals preview, not like this.

So is there any takeaway to make from this game, and is there an angle worth playing?

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76ers Finding Their Identity Without Embiid

The 76ers are 31-13, and that’s honestly pretty darn impressive, considering they’ve already lost Embiid for 13 games plus Ben Simmons for eight more. And don’t forget the extended Seth Curry absence and all the COVID issues earlier in the year too.

Despite all that, there the Sixers sit at the top of the Eastern standings, fifth in Net Rating at +5.4 per Basketball Reference, with the second-best defensive efficiency in the league. Philly is near the top of the league in free-throw rate and defensive 2-point percentage, and the Sixers are a great rebounding team. And remember, those metrics are all that good even with 21 combined missed games from Philly’s two stars.

Simmons is playing here, but Embiid isn’t. Philly started the season 0-4 without their big man, but it sure seems like the Sixers have figured things out since. They’ve won seven of their last nine without Embiid, including 7-2 against the spread over that stretch.

Philadelphia’s free-throw rate falls off a cliff without their man in the middle drawing fouls, but the 76ers still hold their rebounding advantage and defend well, and the eye test matches the numbers. Embiid isn’t the only defender on this team. Simmons is a leading Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and Philly has a bunch of other good defenders like Matisse Thybulle on the roster.

It’s actually the offense that has fallen off without Embiid. Philly’s offensive rating drops from 122.3 with Embiid on the court to just 109.7 without him, a difference of 12.6 points per 100, per Pivot Analysis. Philadelphia’s free-throw rate without its big man plummets from 29 to 17%, its 2-point percentage drops from 56% to 51% and even the 3-point percentage falls from 40% all the way to 34%. Embiid has been that good this season, both with his own offense and with the gravity he pulls away from everyone else.

The Sixers seem to have figured things out without Embiid though, at least enough to get by. Philadelphia used to fall apart entirely without Embiid, but the Sixers have won six of seven games since the All-Star Break with Embiid out. Philly is 6-1 ATS in those games, and the Sixers have allowed just 101.7 points per game over that stretch. Each of Philadelphia’s last five games has gone under, despite two of them going to overtime.

Philadelphia has found its identity without Embiid — all sorts of defense, and just enough offense to get by until the big man is back.

Lakers Struggling Without Their Stars

The Lakers, on the other hand, do not seem to have much of an identity without LeBron James and Anthony Davis. And who can blame them? These are two of the top five or 10 players in the league, depending on the night, and the Lakers have built a championship team around their two super-duper stars.

There’s not much of a sample size yet without the duo since LeBron played nearly every game before his high ankle sprain, but what we do have isn’t great. The Lakers are 0-3 straight up and 1-2 ATS without the pair. They lost to the Kings by three before the break but have lost their last two games to the Suns and Pelicans by 17 each.

The Lakers might have gotten lucky in those games. LA hit 39% of its threes in those three games, far above its typical output without its studs, and even then the Lakers have averaged just 108.3 PPG while allowing 120.7. LA is getting crushed on the boards without that pair too. There’s not much sample without the pair last year either — just one game, and the Lakers won that one.

Of course, we do have more than three games of sample size since the Lakers occasionally have minutes without both LeBron and Brow in other games. Per Pivot Analysis, the Lakers have a +15.34 Net Rating with both on the court together but an ugly -4.89 in 511 minutes with both off. For comparison, the Sacramento Kings have a -4.7 Net Rating this season. Yikes. LA’s offensive rating without the two drops to 106.5, and its effective field goal percentage drops to 49.7%, which would dead last in the NBA. LA’s points per shot drops from 1.14 with LeBron and Davis to an ugly 0.99 without. Not great.

Is LeBron James the most valuable player in the NBA this season? He may or may not be. But it’s becoming pretty clear that James and Davis together are LA’s most valuable men, and that the team is nothing like itself without them.

To make matters worse, the schedule is not kind. They luck out to miss out on Embiid here, but the Lakers play the Bucks and Clippers next week and embark on a seven-game road trip with games against the Nets, Heat and others — and they might be without Brow and LeBron for all of them.

LA is also playing the first of a back-to-back, and the second game against Cleveland is far more winnable. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see the Lakers call off the dogs early if this thing starts to get out of hand.

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76ers-Lakers Pick

I wrote about Philadelphia’s last game against the Golden State Warriors too and drew a similar conclusion: the 76ers are worse but competent without Embiid, and the Warriors fall off a cliff without Steph Curry. It sure looks like the Lakers fall off just as much or further without James and Davis.

You never quite know how Philadelphia’s offense will show up without Embiid. That’s one real variable here. It’ll help that LA’s defense is not the same without James and Davis, but Philly was missing Seth Curry Tuesday night and the team can still go very cold at times.

It seems clear, though, that the Lakers should really struggle to score here without their two superstars. Philadelphia’s defense has still been terrific, even without Embiid, and it’s become something the Sixers have really taken pride in, led by Simmons. Remember, the Sixers are 6-1 both straight up and ATS these last seven games without Embiid, allowing just 101.7 PPG.

I feel pretty good about Philadelphia covering a relatively low line here, and the under looks tempting too, since Philly has gone under in five straight games without Embiid. But I’m not totally confident about the Sixers offense, and both of those rely on a read there. Instead, I’ll just play the Lakers team under at 103.5 and count on the mismatch we’ve found with Philly’s still excellent defense against an offense crippled without its stars.

This game may not be the prettiest. I think the Lakers struggle to hit triple digits, and I’ll play the LA team under to 101.5.

Pick: Lakers team under 103.5

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