The annual NBA showpiece in London takes place at the O2 Arena this Thursday. The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers will hop aboard luxurious jet to cross the Atlantic, ready to be met by a supremely excited British crowd. This yearly event is an opportunity to grow the NBA in Europe, and a chance for already existing basketball fans to see some of the league’s superstars in the flesh.
It’s the Eastern Conference’s top seed against – at the time of writing – the ninth-placed team. The Sixers will still harbour playoff ambitions, and could realistically anywhere from fifth downwards. Philly are currently third in the intensely-competitive Atlantic division.
There’s no secret about the two stars in this one. Kyrie Irving forced a move from Cleveland to be the numero uno, and he has done just that this term. The 25-year-old guard is recording well above his career number in points per game, which is accompanied by a 48% field goal percentage.
The go-to man for the Sixers is Joel Embiid. The charismatic seven-footer is growing into one of the most watchable players in the league, and provides the personality that elite sport can all-too-often forget. Embiid is day-to-day at the moment.
Embiid is supported by a talented young roster. Rookie of the Year contender Ben Simmons is having quite the campaign for himself, despite his well-publicised shooting difficulties. This game, though, could be all about Embiid.
The Sixers are the top rebounders in the league. Their towering centre is a huge part of that. While the Celtics are solid, they could easily be dominated in the paint by the underdogs.
Boston have the league’s best defence – averaging just 97.6 points against – but have had to pay the price offensively, ranking down in 22nd for points scored per game. That’s hardly how we expected a team built around Kyrie to function. The 6-foot 3 inch former Cavalier has massively improved on the defensive end, however.
This is where we discover why this is such a tantalising matchup. Philadelphia hold the eighth worst defensive record in the league. They have conceded 100-plus points in four of their last five. Their game – in contrast to Boston’s – is all about quick ball movement and scoring. I fancy the Sixers to give up over 100.5 points again, and the price of 8/11 for the Celtics to hit 50 points first is well worth consideration.
Giving up 100 does not rule the Sixers out in this one, though. Just ask San Antonio, Phoenix, and Denver.
Brett Brown’s team are the sixth-best offensive team in the NBA on points-per-game. They might be up against the best defence of all at the 02, but even this well-drilled Celtic unit could struggle to slow the scoring of Embiid and co. I like the look of over 210.5 total points at 17/20.
A week or two ago, the prospect of the Sixers winning against the Boston Celtics was questionable at best. Now, while they remain definite underdogs at 23/20, there is a smidgen of uncertainty about this overseas attraction.
I think the Celtics will extend their winning streak to seven. I can see the Sixers being a playoff team, but Irving against this fallible defence is a concern for the Philadelphia-supporting Brits who will be making the pilgrimage.
Boston, despite having the second-best record in the entire league, are fourth favourites for the title at 10/1.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*