NBA Atlantic Division Clash: Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers (22-17, 14-8 home) bring on the Boston Celtics (20-17, 5-9 away) tonight at the Wells Fargo Center, with tip-off set for 7:00 PM ET for the first meeting of the season between the two Atlantic Division rivals.

While the Sixers have no doubt had an impressive first half of the season, led by outstanding defensive play, giving up just 87.5 points/game (best in the NBA), and the solid leadership of players like shooting forward Andre Iguodala (12.6 points, 6.3 rebounds/game), and point guards Lou Williams (15.7 ppg, 3.8 assists/game) and Jrue Holliday (13.5 ppg, 4.4 apg). However, things seem to have taken a turn for the worst heading into the second half of the lockout-shortened season, as Philadelphia has struggled to overcome in close contests, losing 8 of their last 10 games and failing mostly on the road (1-5 in their last 6 games). Tonight, Philadelphia will have to first and foremost take advantage of an older Boston team that while being winners of 5 straight games, have to play on back-to-back nights after a tough OT win over the Houston Rockets yesterday. That could certainly play into an advantage for the younger and more athletic Sixers, who were able to be at home for a day of rest after losing in Milwaukee, but without a doubt Philadelphia will have to be ready to return to solid defensive form if they expect to win against a veteran team with a very good defense themselves.

In the first of four match-ups between the two teams that are fighting for the Atlantic Division title this year, tonight’s game is a crucial match-up especially for Philadelphia, who could find themselves moving down from first place and overtaken by Boston for the first time this season, with the Celtics having two games in hand as well. The Sixers focus tonight has to be on getting back to playing great defense, especially after allowing an average of 96.5 points to opposing teams in their last two defeats. Boston has shown that they aren’t a great scoring team this year, averaging just 91.0 points/game (26th in the NBA), and while they are giving up just 89.4 points/game (3rd in the NBA), the closeness of these two stats shows just how well they are doing in tight ball games. That is especially highlighted in their most recent successes, winning 5 straight by an average margin of victory of 4.2 points, and their last two in overtime at home over the Knicks and Rockets. Boston’s leading scorer Paul Pierce (18.4 ppg, 5.3 apg, 5.0 rpg) has been a big key to the C’s recent success, dropping in 27, 30, and 34 point efforts in his last three games, and the Beantown faithful has to like finally seeing at least one of their veteran cast ask for the ball and deliver a victory for them. With Ray Allen (14.9 ppg) also showing a good night shooting last night (21 points) working back from illness, and Kevin Garnett (15.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg) dropping in 4 straight double-doubles, the veterans are definitely showing signs of their former confidence and ability to win scrappy games. That could give the Celtics, although likely running into fatigue issues tonight, a good chance at overcoming against a vulnerable Sixers team that hasn’t been able to close out ballgames especially against clutch opponents.

One very big plus for Philadelphia tonight however, is the likelihood that Boston will be running on spent gas tanks, coming off those two exciting overtime wins at home and playing on consecutive nights. In this year’s hectic shortened season, this has to be a major consideration to take into account, and with plenty on the line for the Sixers both in divisional standings and team confidence, now has to be the time Philly picks up a win in a game considered a ‘scheduled loss’ for Boston as they’re up against a better rested, much younger line-up tonight. Philadelphia can’t let Boston hang around in this game through the 4th quarter, keeping the match-up defensive-based and slowed down. If the 76ers allow Boston to keep the pace at a reasonable level, Philadelphia will inevitably set themselves up to get overtaken late by clutch veteran shooting from the likes of a Paul Pierce or Ray Allen from the perimeter. However, if Philadelphia can push the ball upcourt from the very early goings, they will be able to use their stamina to their advantage, and force Boston to look to their bench more often tonight. What I really like about the Sixers heading into this match-up is their depth, and their youth. With 6 players in double figures on the season, and the team excelling in the paint and on the glass (43.3 rpg), getting a good collective effort against a good Boston defense will pay dividends tonight.

Fresh legs will play a key factor, and that should give Philadelphia an advantage especially at the point guard position, with Lou Williams coming off the bench to lead the team in scoring, giving added rest to their second leading scorer, Jrue Holliday. These two guys have to have big nights tonight against Boston. With center Spencer Hawes’ (10.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg) absence from the line-up really starting to show up towards the closing moments of games, Philly needs to look to its floor generals to dictate the game more from the outside, and distribute the ball to the likes of Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand (10.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg), especially in the second half. It would be equally good if the Sixers could get a better performance out of their bench players like Evan Turner, who missed 11 of 12 shots starting for Jodie Meeks on Monday, and either LaVoy Allen or Nikola Vucevic must be better in the paint against the veteran Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass. Staying fresh, but also playing more consistent basketball will give Philadelphia a big leg-up against Boston, especially as the Celtics could find themselves struggling to keep up pace in the second half.

Betting Lines for Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers at Intertops Sportsbook

With analysts predicting this to be a ‘scheduled loss’ for Boston as they come in off back-to-back overtime wins and have to play on back-to-back nights, it’s expected that the Celtics should be the underdog tonight at Philadelphia…and they are. Getting +240 odds to win despite winning 5 straight games, Boston isn’t expected to prevail on the road this evening, however that may put even more pressure on a floundering Philadelphia team, who at -280 odds to win at home have been unable to overcome games in the second half, especially against teams with records above .500.

Against the Spread, Boston is a 6.5 point underdog while Philly gets -6.5 points to cover tonight, both at -110 odds. This might be the most exciting action on the betting lines for the game, as despite the likelihood of a sluggish Boston squad hitting the court, there is also signs that Philadelphia may once again falter down the home stretch, making this game closer than expected. With two of the best defensive squads in action, a slow paced game will definitely boost Boston’s chances of at least beating the spread, and with their momentum coming into tonight, the C’s may just overcome the spread regardless of whether or not Philly fails to keep the momentum of the game churning along.

On to the total points line for tonight’s Atlantic division clash, the bar has been set at a low 176.5 points, with -110 odds going either over or under. For certain, if we see Boston find a way to take this game into overtime again, that points total will be busted through once more. If Philadelphia plays defense like they have over the past couple of games as well, we’ll see another game with the score line reading in the 90’s for both teams. While this should be a tough call to make, I’m looking for a fast-paced start from Philadelphia to help be the factor that breaks through the points margin, and my pick with take the game to go over the allotted points total at Intertops.

Our Pick to Win:

This is the first of four games in what should be a very competitive season series between these two teams fighting for the Atlantic Division title. While Boston definitely comes in as an underdog due to their tough schedule over the past week, and may struggle to put up points against the league’s top-rated defense, Philadelphia is equally questionable when it comes to their ability to finish games, and that may just give Boston a rare opportunity to sneak out of town with a road win tonight. However, with the two sides being so dramatically different in depth, youth and physical ability, I expect the 76ers to be able to grind out a victory at home, and end the Celtics’ 5-game winning streak. That said, Boston should still make a game of it tonight, and I’ll back them to cover the points spread in a close game between two teams that very much want to start the season series off with a victory. Philadelphia 90, Boston 86.

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