76ers-Bucks is a big East matchup

The Boston Celtics might be the hottest team in the NBA. They’re No. 6 in the Eastern Conference right now. The Brooklyn Nets were preseason favorites to win it all. They’re No. 8 in the East.

The East side of the NBA playoff bracket is going to be wild. There might be six or seven teams that have a legitimate reason to believe they can go to the NBA Finals. Two teams that have every reason to believe they can win the East face off Thursday night as the Milwaukee Bucks host the Philadelphia 76ers. The Bucks are No. 3 in the East and the 76ers are No. 5. This conference is deep.

The Bucks are 6.5-point favorites at BetMGM, though that spread would be tighter if the 76ers were whole.

The 76ers made a huge move, trading players including Ben Simmons for a package highlighted by James Harden. Harden will be out through the all-star break with a hamstring injury. When he gets back, the Joel Embiid-Harden combo will be fascinating to watch. There’s clearly an NBA championship upside to the 76ers, who were playing very well before the trade. We’ll see if the chemistry is right by the playoffs.

The Bucks made some moves before the break, picking up big man Serge Ibaka in a trade, but it’s the same core that won an NBA championship last season. Giannis Antetokounmpo is having another great season and is coming off a 50-point game, but the Bucks as a whole have been up and down. You have to wonder if they’re on cruise control a bit until the playoffs.

It’s the NBA’s last day before the all-star break. Only three games separate the No. 1 seed (Chicago Bulls) and the No. 5 seed 76ers. Every game among the many East contenders will be important in determining the hierarchy before the playoffs.

Joel Embiid is the NBA MVP favorite. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Here’s a first look at the sports betting slate for Thursday:

How about the rest of the NBA schedule?

There are just five games on the schedule as the NBA gets ready for all-star weekend. The second-best game on the schedule is the Miami Heat at a young, fun and inconsistent Charlotte Hornets team. The Heat, another team that can win the East, is a 4.5-point favorite. The Hornets are in a slump, and the Heat seems like the right side even as a road favorite.

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How about college hoops?

There are five top-25 teams in action, and all five are big favorites. Perhaps the best game on the board is Michigan at Iowa. Iowa is trying to improve its seed and Michigan is trying to get on the right side of the bubble. Iowa is a 5.5-point favorite and its hard to take Michigan, who we identified in our college basketball reset on Wednesday as one of the disappointing teams in the nation.

What else is there to bet on?

The Genesis Invitational golf tournament starts Thursday, and many big names are in it. Yahoo Sportsbook’s Pam Maldonado previewed the event. There are 10 NHL games and the marquee game is the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs are -150 favorites.

What’s the best bet?

The 76ers were embarrassed in a 135-87 loss Tuesday to the Celtics, but they were playing pretty well before that. I think that was a bad night for Philly, one that will motivate the 76ers, and we’ll get a close game in Milwaukee on Thursday night. Take the 76ers and the points.


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