NBA series betting: Can Sixers steal game from Heat before Joel Embiid returns?

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Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid will likely get edged out of this year's NBA MVP award, but there's no doubt he's Philly's most valuable player.

We're about to see just how valuable. The big man has been ruled out for the first two games of the Sixers' second-round series against the Miami Heat after suffering an orbital bone fracture and a concussion versus the Raptors.

Miami opened as a -175 favorite to win the series on BetMGM. That price doubled to -350 following the news that Embiid would miss time.

It's not so sunny in Philadelphia

Embiid is a dominant force and the cornerstone of Philly's offense. His development of a 3-point shot (37.1% this season) has turned him into a nightmarish assignment for any defender. It's no surprise that he led the league in scoring this year.

But it's what Embiid does down low that the Sixers will really miss for as long as he's out this series. Philadelphia makes a lot of its nut from the free throw line. The Sixers sank more freebies than any other team this season, as nearly one-fifth of all their points came from the stripe. Their ability to get to the line has ironically made opposing coaches cry foul.

Embiid is the main reason for that success. He led the NBA in free throw attempts per game (11.8) and took 41% of Philly's free throws this year.

The 7-footer also pulled down the fifth-most rebounds in the league (11.7 rpg). The Sixers ranked 29th in rebounds per game and dead last in offensive rebounding. They also ranked 24th in scoring in the paint and will now face a Miami defense that ranks first in that category. This series could get out of hand if Embiid doesn't return for Game 3.

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid adjusts his mask against the Boston Celtics in the second round of the 2018 NBA playoffs. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid adjusts his mask against the Boston Celtics in the second round of the 2018 NBA playoffs. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Who's up, Doc?

With "The Process" out, who will Sixers coach Doc Rivers trust to replace him? DeAndre Jordan fell off faster than Lou Bega. Paul Millsap is a shell of his former self's shell. Paul Reed has given Philly some good minutes, but is foul-prone. Charles Bassey offers some nice length, but that's about it.

All of the offensive load will fall on the guards and forwards while Embiid is sidelined. Namely, James Harden, Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris.

Miami ranks fifth in defensive efficiency this season and has the defensive weapons to keep those guys in check, even with Kyle Lowry missing Game 1 with a hamstring injury. The Heat hounded Hawks guard Trae Young into an ugly 31.9% shooting performance in their first-round matchup. A mix of Gabe Vincent, Victor Oladipo, Jimmy Butler and PJ Tucker will be looking to treat Philly's scorers to the same experience.

It's tough to envision the Sixers stealing a game in Miami without Embiid. Even if he comes back for Game 3, I'm not sure he can be effective enough to carry his team to a series win. The last time Embiid returned from an orbital fracture to play in the playoffs, he donned a mask and averaged 21.4 ppg on 43.5% shooting from the field. This time, he'll also have to contend with a ligament tear in his right thumb. Since the thumb injury, Embiid is 0-for-9 from 3-point range.

Another factor to consider is the possibility of Philadelphia shutting down Embiid, either due to re-injury or the fear of further damage being inflicted on their superstar. Wearing a mask can help against routine physical jostling, but any direct shot near his right eye could bear catastrophic results. If the Sixers don't take one of the first two games in Miami and then lose Game 3 in Philly to go down 0-3, they may opt to cut their losses on this season and ensure they have a healthy Embiid next year.

The -350 juice on Miami to win the series is understandably high with Embiid's series status in flux. Taking the Heat at -1.5 games on the series line can knock that down to -120.

Stats provided by Basketball Reference, teamrankings.com, and nba.com.

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