The Sixers’ playoff prospects can be viewed in a crystal ball that suggests bad news or good news, depending on how you squint at it.
Philadelphia (No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference) approaches a second-round NBA playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks (No. 5 seed) on Sunday after having eliminated Washington 4-games-to-1 Wednesday night. The Hawks took out the New York Knicks, also 4-1.
The bad news for Philly is obvious to Pennsylvania bettors and anyone familiar with the 76ers. Star big man Joel Embiid is out for — well, who knows how long — with what is described as a “small lateral meniscus tear” in his right knee. The injury happened in Game 4 against the Wizards in an awkward fall.
If you missed that day in med school, a lateral meniscus (each knee has two menisci) is cartilage on the outside of the knee and you don’t need a medical degree to realize that a “tear” is not a good thing.
Good news: Depending on the tear, a meniscus tear can heal on its own.
Bad news: That can take six to eight weeks.
Good news: The Sixers are implying that maybe, just maybe, rest and treatment might allow Embiid to play in the playoffs at some point. Sixers coach Doc Rivers pulled out the timeworn “day-to-day” chestnut.
Bad news: An Embiid return might be magical thinking. There is a range of treatment approaches for that injury (and yes, I did miss that day in med school). Plus, there are many question marks, not the least of which is — what risk is there to the player?
Sixers Closed Out Wizards Series Without Embiid
Good news: The Sixers easily handled Washington in Game 5, 129-112, without Embiid to close out that series using a so-called “small” lineup driven by Seth Curry and Ben Simmons.
Bad news: In that win, the Sixers needed an almost perfect game from Curry and Simmons, plus 28 points from forward Tobias Harris and strong bench support. Altogether, it was an inspired performance that will be tough to replicate consistently.
Good news: The Sixers played 21 games without Embiid in the regular season and still finished first in the Eastern Conference.
Bad news: The 76ers were 10-11 without Embiid indicating his importance as the difference-maker when everyone is not having an optimal game, as was the case in Game 5 against Washington.
Good news: There was a 10-game stretch late in the season when the Sixers were 7-3 without Embiid, perhaps a sign that the team has been learning to adapt without the 7-foot center lurking in the paint.
Sixers Beat Hawks Twice in April
Of course, there’s a group on the other side, the Atlanta Hawks, who will have something to say about the second-round series. They handled the Knicks (No. 4 seed) easily in the first round, dashing any hopes of MSG’s delusional fan base.
However, the Hawks also lost decisively to the Sixers in back-to-back games in late April. Both of those games were in Philly and Embiid did play so, maybe not too much should be read into those outcomes — but they are there.
Oddsmakers at DraftKings and BetMGM opened the Sixers in the range of a -200 to -215 sports betting favorite to win the series against Atlanta, but for a No.1 conference seed, like the Sixers, the prize isn’t just winning a second-round series.