The Philadelphia 76ers entered the Eastern Conference Playoffs as the #1 seed thanks to 49-23 record and MVP runner-up Joel Embiid dominating opposition all year long. Phili also features newcomers Seth Curry and Danny Green and Head Coach Doc Rivers, all of which have been instrumental in turning them into one of the most feared groups in professional basketball.
The Atlanta Hawks, on the other hand, have none of the prestige or expectations of their adversaries. They started the season 14-20 and are led by third-year guard Trae Young, who is optimistically listed at 6-foot-1. Young has had his share of critics for his supposed inefficient long-range shooting and low basketball IQ, prompting many to speculate whether Atlanta would ever become a formidable opponent.
Those questions are now quickly becoming a distant memory, as Young carried the Hawks past the favorite New York Knicks in five games and has his fifth-seeded side level with Philadelphia after four games, splitting 1-1 on the road and at home.
Sixers Favored So Far
The 76ers have been favored in every game, meaning that the oddsmakers view them as the outright better team in this series, yet Young and the Hawks will not go away— they even won Game Four after they had trailed by 18 points in the second quarter.
Joel Embiid has been his usual, dominant self, averaging 30.8 points and 13 rebounds in the series, but is dealing with a partially torn meniscus and is putting his coach between a rock and a hard place: either Doc can play his star for extended periods and give his team the best chance to win while subjecting Embiid to the possibility of completely tearing the meniscus, or limit his center’s minutes to keep him healthy and play without his best player.
The Sixers had their luck tested again when Danny Green went down with a strained calf four minutes into Game Four, and they will be without their starting guard for 2-3 weeks. With these injury problems and a poor shooting performance from Embiid last time out (4-20 on-field goals), nothing seems to be going Phili’s way.
Hawks Looking to Upset
The Hawks again find themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum, heading up to Philadelphia for Game Five with a heart full of confidence and a leader in Young that has transformed into a superstar before the eyes of America this postseason. “Ice Trae” has set a line of 28.3 points and 10.7 assists per game and has delivered a game-winner and four wins on the road already in the playoffs.
Atlanta is a young team overall and has rallied behind Interim Head Coach Nate McMillan, who is 34-14 since taking over for Lloyd Pierce earlier this year. The Hawks refuse to give up and combined youthful energy from their starting five with experience off the bench to create a cohesive unit that has delivered in the postseason.
Kevin Huerter got the start in place of Solomon Hill in Game Four and contributed 10 points to the winning affair, and looks ready to start Wednesday again to space the floor for Young to operate.
At the time of publishing, FanDuel has the Hawks as +6.5 (-110) underdogs on the road and +220 on the moneyline. There is not only tremendous value in backing Atlanta but also tremendous sense and logic too. The Hawks have all of the momentum moving forward, have had success away from home, are healthier than Phili, and look hungrier.
If the Hawks succeed in knocking off the Sixers in Game Five, as I suspect, there is little doubt in my mind that they will close things out at the State Farm Arena a couple of days later and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals to take on the winner of the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks series.
In this instance, ignore what your head says and follow your heart here; Philadelphia was the better team all year, but they are floundering and facing a team on the verge of taking the leap with all of the belief in the world. So bet Atlanta, close your laptop, and watch them do what they have been doing throughout the entire playoffs— win.
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Grant Mitchell is a sportswriter and multimedia contributor for the Sports 2.0 Network dealing with basketball, football, soccer, and other major sports: you can connect with him on Twitter @milemitchell to stay up to date with the latest sports news and to engage personally with him.