The 2019 NBA playoffs begin as the Philadelphia 76ers take on the Brooklyn Nets in their series in the Eastern Confernence.
The 76ers were widely backed to challenge for the top two seeds in the East after reaching the Conference Semi-Finals last term.
However, the club suffered from spells of inconsistent form to stymie their progress over the course of the campaign. Still they were able to win 51 games to edge into the third seed – although off the pace of the Milwaukee Bucks and the Toronto Raptors.
Joel Embiid was the star man for Brett Brown’s men, firmly establishing himself as one of the leading stars of the league. He produced the best season of his career to date and will be determined to further enhance his reputation in the post-season.
Brooklyn have returned to the playoffs after a three-year exile. Kenny Atkinson has led a dramatic improvement in the fortune of the franchise, notching over 40 wins for the first time since the 2013/14 season.
D’Angelo Russell has been the key to their success, with the 22-year-old earning an All-Star berth for the first time. The Nets could be a dangerous team in the playoffs, especially against a team that they are familiar with in the form of Philadelphia.
There will be pressure on the 76ers to play up to the talent on their roster to make a deeper surge than their last trip into the post-season, which was ended last term by the Boston Celtics.
The 76ers have a major concern ahead of the playoffs due to the fitness of Embiid. The 25-year-old has been outstanding on the court of the club, reaching a career-high in points per game. Only James Harden, Paul George and Giannis Antetokounmpo have been more potent on the court this term in the league. However, Embiid has been struggling with knee and back injuries since the All-Star break.
Philadelphia were reliant on his star power to win games single-handed at times during the regular season. The pressure will be elevated on Embiid to do so in the post-season. General manager Elton Brand has suggested that Embiid could miss a couple of games due to his ailments. Operating without the center could leave the 76ers exposed.
Brand did make moves during the term to alleviate the pressure on the forward. He acquired Jimmy Butler from the Minnesota Timberwolves, and although he did not find his peak form during the campaign, Butler has been a man for the big occasion in the past.
Tobias Harris’ arrival was perhaps more significant as he was extremely efficient in his time on the court. Ben Simmons is on the way to greatness even though his regular season was not quite as explosive as the club’s hierarchy would have been hoping for. If Embiid is not good to go for the first couple of games, all eyes will be on the 22-year-old to put the 76ers in command on home court.
The Nets won their final three games of the season to secure their place in the playoffs. Atkinson’s men were operating at the .500 mark throughout the campaign, but made their surge late to press ahead of the Orlando Magic and the Detroit Pistons. Brooklyn avoided the top two seeds and will fancy their chances against the 76ers, who will be under greater pressure to pull off the victory.
They split the series during the regular season, including a win on the road in their contest in December. The club have won only one playoff series since their move to Brookyln in 2012. Atkinson has the team trending in the right direction and it would be a major scalp to defeat the 76ers – a perceived team on the rise.
Russell will be the key to their success. The 22-year-old has been extremely impressive this term, averaging 21.1 points per game, missing only two matches in the regular season. Russell ranks in 10th place in the NBA for assists, highlighting his playmaking ability on the court. However, he cannot be forced to carry the team alone against elite opposition.
Russell performed well in the Nets’ win over the Bucks in their surge at the end of the term. Players of the ilk of Spencer Dinwiddie will have to ease the pressure on Russell. Dinwiddie scored 39 points in Brooklyn’s win over the 76ers in December. The club will need a few performances of that quality to defeat their rivals.
Head to Head
Total Matches: 196 Philadelphia 76ers: 113 Brooklyn Nets: 83
As mentioned previously the two teams split their four games during the regular season. Both sides won one game at home and one on the road. The 76ers got the better of their rivals in their last contest, securing a 123-110 win at Wells Fargo Center.
Embiid scored 39 points in the game, highlighting his importance to Brown’s men for the series. However, Brooklyn did record the biggest margin of victory, defeating the 76ers by 25 points in the first duel of the campaign. It should be a fascinating series between the teams.
It should be a close contest between the two teams given that they played out a 2-2 draw in their series during the regular season. Without Embiid, the Nets have the opportunity to exploit Philadelphia especially earlier in the series.
Butler, Simmons and Harris may need to carry their side to ease the pressure on Embiid. It would not be a surprise to see Brooklyn take the opening game of the series at odds of 31/104.10+3103.103.10-0.32 with BetVictor.
However, it would be stunning to see the 76ers lose in the first round given the amount of quality that they can put on the court. In a one-off contest they could be vulnerable, but back them at odds of 17/1001.17-6000.17-6.000.17 at BetOnline to see out the series to advance to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
Brooklyn Nets To Beat Philadelphia 76ers Game One
Saturday 13th April 2019 14:30 EST (19:30 BST)
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