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The Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks are the only teams yet to appear in the 2023-24 NBA season, and they will make their debuts on national television when they square off on Thursday night.
The Bucks made the move of the summer by trading for Portland Trail Blazers wantaway superstar Damian Lillard, partnering him with two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Sixers are also working on moving a star, but that star is James Harden, and he wants out of the team.
Here, we’ll share our thoughts on the betting odds and give our best picks for the Eastern Conference showdown.
The Bucks were the top seed in the East last year, while the Sixers were four games behind and the third seed. Oddsmakers have the Bucks as the championship co-favorites this time around, while the Sixers are expected to take a step back from their success a year ago.
*Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook. Use our DraftKings promo code for a two-part welcome bonus worth $1,200.*
|Philadelphia 76ers||+6.5 (-110)||+190||Over 225 (-110)|
|Milwaukee Bucks||-6.5 (-110)||-230||Under 225 (-110)|
The Bucks went for broke by acquiring Lillard. They lost Jrue Holiday, who was an integral part of their championship squad two years ago, in the process, and are much weaker defensively because of it.
Joining Lillard in the backcourt is sharpshooter Malik Beasley, who was among the top three-point shooters in the league last year. He made more than three threes per game for three and a half seasons before falling to 2.5 during his post-trade-deadline stint with the Lakers, where he ultimately fell out of the rotation in the playoffs.
Khris Middleton, Giannis, and Brook Lopez fill out the remainder of the starting five. Cameron Payne, Jae Crowder, and Bobby Portis will lead the shock troops for a team that has size, speed, shooting, playmaking, defense, and rebounding. It’s hard to find a flaw in this team, especially with the Giannis-Lillard pick-and-roll that is going to have opposing coaches enduring many restless nights.
The 76ers have been known for disappointing in big moments and failing to meet expectations (of at least getting out of the second round). Although they are going through a rocky time with the Harden situation, the pressure has been lifted off their shoulders, and they have a chance to fly under the radar in a conference that has already been handed to the Bucks and Boston Celtics.
Joel Embiid won the MVP and scoring title a year ago and is back in the middle of the lineup. He will be heavily relied upon by new coach Nick Nurse, who is known for playing his stars lots of minutes.
With Harden out, Patrick Beverley should step into the starting lineup alongside Tyrese Maxry, Tobias Harris, and P.J. Tucker. Kelly Oubre Jr. was a key offseason acquisition and will provide versatility off the bench.
The Sixers and Bucks split two of four matchups a year ago. Two of them ended within three points and another within eight, and the series was fiery and competitive.
That said, we expect the Sixers’ offense to take a step back without Harden in the lineup. He led the league in assists in 2022–23 and also shot close to 39% from three, and that cannot be replaced by the limited Beverley.
Embiid is going to have to have a huge night for Philly to have a chance of winning, especially as a playmaker. He averaged 6.5 assists in 15 games without Harden last year and also averaged 6.5 in the four games against the Bucks, so it’s fair to expect him to put on his playmaking hat in addition to his scoring one.
All eyes will be on how Lillard and Giannis gel together on the court. If they play up to their potential, they will be the best duo in the league bar none and potentially one of the best in the 21st century.
We believe the Bucks have enough defense to stop what the Sixers will throw at them and will pull out a comfortable win here, covering the spread in the process.
Grant is a sports and sports betting journalist who prides himself on delivering breaking news and insightful analyses of the industry. Grant graduated from Virginia Tech in 2021 and is feverishly pursuing his ambitions in the sports betting field.
In his free time, Grant can be found passionately watching sports, doing a workout, or searching for adventure with his friends.More info on Grant Mitchell
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