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With the halfway point of the season quickly approaching, there's still plenty of edges to be found on NBA spread markets. My NBA picks went 1-1 last night to move my season-long record to 156-106-2 for +64.5 units. I have one pick on tonight's nine-game slate, with a spread for a battle between Eastern Conference rivals.
Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia went just 10-12 ATS this season as favorites and I'm backing Boston to push that record to 10-13 tonight. These teams split the first two matchups this year and both games finished within a five-point margin. Both sides have been disappointing this season with ATS records below .500.
There's been plenty of discussion around the idea of breaking up Boston's wing duo of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum but amid the chaos the team has quietly ranked in the top five of defensive rating over the last 15 games with the seventh-best net rating in the league during that span. In 18 games with Tatum, Brown and Robert Williams available, Boston went 10-8 with a +2.5 net rating.
Boston's defense is based around having long, switchable defenders who can defend at the point of attack and prevent opponents from getting to the rim. The Celtics hold opponents to the second-lowest rate of attempts at the rim among all NBA defenses this season. While opponents are shooting an above-average 66.4% from around the rim, Boston should find success if the defense can force Joel Embiid to start his post-ups from further away from the rim, enticing him into mid-range shots rather than buckets inside. No team forced more opponent shots from the long midrange than Boston so far this year, where Embiid shoots 42% as opposed to his 73% mark around the rim.
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The Celtics will have a fully healthy squad for this game if Marcus Smart is available and one key addition is Robert Williams, who missed the first game of January but has since played in Boston's last five. Boston's halfcourt defense improves by 3.6 points per 100 possessions with Williams on the court this year and he'll be a big part of the team's strategy for stopping Embiid.
Philadelphia runs spot-ups on 27.1% of all offensive possessions, the second-highest rate in the league. That could be dangerous against the Celtics, who allow the fewest opposing points per possession against spot-ups according to Synergy. Philly's mid-range shooters hoisting pull-up mid-range shots and contested three-pointers off spot-ups will play into Boston's strengths and allow the Celtics to leave the city of Brotherly Love with the cover and possibly even an outright win.
The biggest concern for the 76ers this year is a lack of rebounding. Ben Simmons was known for high-quality defense, among other things, in Philadelphia but his rebounding prowess as a large guard often went unheralded. The 76ers now play two small guards in the backcourt and Philly dropped from the top-10 in rebounding rate last year all the way to the bottom five this season.
The 76ers put up an offensive rebounding rate of 30% or higher only five times this season after reaching that mark 26 times last year. I expect Boston, an above-average rebounding team to perform well on the boards and keep this game close enough for an ATS victory.
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