The race for third place in the Eastern Conference will go through Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Arena on Friday night, as the Cleveland Cavaliers (49-30) will face the Philadelphia 76ers (48-30) with a 7 PM ET tipoff. With only a half game separating the two teams, this game has major implications. Not only will the winning team be in sole possession of the third seed, but if the Cavaliers win, they will also hold the tie-breaker having won the season series outright. The spread coming into the game is Philadelphia -3.5. The over/under for total points scored is set at 223.
Embiid’s Absence May Loom Large For 76ers
On March 29th it was announced that center Joel Embid had suffered an orbital fracture that would require surgery and at least a couple weeks of recovery. While the 76ers have been rolling even without Embiid (they have won all four games since the announcement and 12 games in a row overall), they have not faced anyone of the caliber of the Cavaliers since his injury.
The last time that the two teams faced one another was on March 1st, a game the 76ers won 108-97. However, in that game, Joel Embiid had 17 points and 14 rebounds in 34 minutes of action. Additionally, the Cavaliers were without starting power forward Kevin Love.
If the 76ers hope to have any success against the surging Cavaliers, they are going to have to rely on Ben Simmons. The 6’10” point guard is averaging 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.1 assists per game this season. The last time the two teams met Simmons scored 18 with 9 rebounds and 8 assists. They are also going to need a good game from shooting guard J.J. Redick, who led the 76ers with 22 points in their March 1st meeting.
Another big factor will be whether Dario Saric, who has been dealing with cellulitis, a bacterial infection, in his right elbow, will be able to play. Despite missing a few games, it is expected that he is going to be in the starting lineup Friday night against the Cavaliers.
Cavaliers Hope To Keep Rolling Despite Injuries
For the Cavaliers, much of their success is always predicated on how well Lebron James is playing and recently, that has been pretty well. The Cavaliers have won nine of their last ten games and five games in a row heading into Friday. They will be playing in the second game of a back to back, but have even more momentum after coming back from a 17-point deficit to beat the Washington Wizards 119-115 Thursday night.
Lebron James led the way with 33 points, 14 assists, and nine rebounds. Jeff Green (21 points), Kevin Love (16 points) and Larry Nance Jr. (10 rebounds) also played major parts in the victory.
After the victory on Thursday, the Cavaliers now sit in sole possession of third place with a half-game lead over the 76ers. With only three games left to play on the schedule, a victory over the 76ers on Friday might be the icing on the cake to guarantee the three seed.
Not only would it give them a 1.5 game lead over the 76ers with 2 to play (3 for the 76ers) but, as previously mentioned, it would also give them the tie-breaker over Philadelphia in the event that they finish the season with the same record.
Cleveland Tops Philadelphia
Both teams are playing really well right now, but only one will have their superstar on the floor for Friday’s game. With Joel Embiid being out for the 76ers, I am predicting that the Cavaliers win this one. Lebron will take over the game and the lack of Embiid’s presence will allow both Kevin Love and Larry Nance Jr. to have decent games. Take the Cavaliers at the +3.5.
If betting the over/under on total points, I am going with the under. Even though both teams rank in the top ten for total scoring, field goal percentage, and three-point percentage, I think the injury to Embiid and the fact that Cleveland will be playing in their second game in two nights will keep the scoring down a little. I think it will be close, but I am taking the under 222.
Pick: Cleveland Cavaliers +3.5 over Philadelphia 76ers