By Josh Jacobs
**No. 3 Orlando vs. No. 6 Philadelphia**
Series Price: Orlando -1300 Philadelphia +800
Series Format: 2-2-1-1-1
Skinny: Closing out 82 games as the No. 3 seed in the East, Orlando is now prepared for the big show. A final push through the regular season proved to fall a little short as Boston was able to hold itself together for the No. 2 spot. As a result, the Magic will tip it off against a hungry Philadelphia squad. So who are these 76ers and what shot do they have at giving Orlando a run for its money?
It’s no secret that Philly had a tough time at the tail end of the schedule. Dropping six in a row before breaking that trend in a 111-110 overtime win over Cleveland on Apr. 15 had the team flirting with the No. 7 seed instead of its current No. 6 spot. But that’s all water under the bridge. What we need to know is that the ‘Sixers have had an overall bumpy trip to this point. They’ve gone through the firing of head coach Maurice Cheeks in exchange for Tony DiLeo (who’s guided the team to a 32-27 record since taking over). There’s the Elton Brand experiment which failed miserably and they’ve had problems getting the offense together as scoring 97.4 PPG is just the precursor.
The bright spots in terms of in-game performance for Philadelphia includes the leadership that 33-year-old point guard Andre Miller has brought to the table. Arguably one of his best years to date, Miller capped off the regular season, scoring 16.3 PPG and dishing the ball for 6.5 APG. If the 76ers want a solid shot at dethroning a superior Magic team then Miller will need to take charge with his excellent passing ability.
As strong as a start it was for the Magic, April was a month to forget. Orlando not only dropped games to Toronto (99-95) and New York (105-95) during this time but a 1-5 ATS slide in its last six had backers contemplating their wagers. Looking back at the skid shows us that scoring 88.3 PPG in the last seven became detrimental in the team’s problematic times down the stretch.
But the upside to this Orlando team has been the ability to rebound in the face of adversity. They survived a tough setback after point guard Jameer Nelson went down for the season with a torn labrum. In came Rafer Alston (traded from Houston) and the Magic were able to continue posting positive results (33-21 record since Alston joined the club in mid-February).
The X-factor for Orlando is hard to miss center, Dwight Howard. His 20.6 PPG have come via a 57.2 percent success rate from the field. And there’s no overlooking Howard’s league leading, 13.8 rebounds per game. But while individual performances are great looking on the stat sheet, there’s no substituting the art of team chemistry.
Gambling Notes: Beginning with Game 1 as an introduction, most books are setting the Magic as 9 ½-point home favorites with a total installed at 190 ½. Game time is set to begin at 5:30 p.m. ET as TNT will be providing full coverage.
In the three head-to-head matchups this season it was Orlando that retained the edge, going 3-0 SU and ATS. Taking a deeper look reveals that the Magic have remained dominant in past series. An 8-2 SU and 6-4 ATS (6-2 ATS in the last eight) record in favor of the Magic in the last 10 is perfect illustration to the head-to-head dominance. But if there’s an angle to take to the bank in this series it’s that Orlando’s Dwight Howard has been held in check to 15.7 PPG and 10 RPG in the three games played against Philadelphia this season.
The underdog is 23-11 ATS in the last 34 meetings. The ‘under’ is 8-2 in Orlando’s last 10 home meetings (3-0 on the 'under' in the last three head-to-head games) and is 6-0 in the 76ers last six road games versus a team with a winning record. The home team is 5-2 ATS in the last seven head-to-head meetings.
Outlook: Many thought that with point guard Jameer Nelson out for the season Orlando would be hard pressed to find a replacement. But Alston put those worries to bed as his solid ball handling skills and exceptional ability to protect from turnovers have been more then welcomed. The SU and ATS numbers are in sharp support for the Magic and tough to ignore no matter how big of a Philly supporter one might be. If the 76ers want a fighting chance in this first round matchup then perfect execution by everyone on the court will be needed.
Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young and Andre Miller will need to play their hearts out for Philadelphia all while continuing to frustrate Orlando’s Howard. Even if the Magic enter this matchup with less then 100% effort it’s tough to imagine how the ‘Sixers can pull this one out of the hat.
Some disturbing numbers to factor in for a huge Philly upset include the Magic ranking second to last in the NBA with 19.4 assists per game and a poor effort of hustling for just seven steals on the season.
Future Bets: A price tag of +800 (bet $100 to make $800) attached to the 76ers should tell us what the books are thinking in this matchup. The Magic are at a ‘chalky’ -1300 (bet $1300 to make $100) in this best of seven series. Some other futures to consider include the Magic at 5/2 odds to take the series in a four-game sweep, 9/5 to take the series in five while Philadelphia is at 12/1 odds to win the first round matchup in a seventh-game decision.