Two huge Eastern Conference rivals clash in the early hours of Sunday morning as they battle for top seed, with just three games splitting the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers.
The Celtics have the chance to secure the tie-breaker on Saturday, having won the first two meetings between the pair this season. Last season’s beaten finalists opened their season with a win over Philly, before claiming a 106-99 win earlier this month.
However, the 76ers have won five on the bounce since that defeat and they sit just three games behind the league-leading Celtics.
With these two standing out in the Eastern Conference, this is a battle for top seed and an opportunity to lay down a marker to the opposition.
|What||Boston Celtics @ Philadelphia 76ers|
|Where||Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania|
|When||01:40, Sunday 26th February 2023|
|How to watch||bet365 Sports Live Streaming, NBA League Pass & Sky Sports Arena|
|Odds||BOS Celtics 5/6, PHI 76ers 1/1|
With the Brooklyn Nets selling off their star assets at the trade deadline, the picture in the Eastern Conference got a lot clearer. There’s a clear top three at the summit, including these two sides and the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Celtics are 11/10 to win the Conference, with the Bucks at 12/5 and the Sixers coming in at 5/1.
Those are the only three sides priced in single figures to make it to the NBA Finals from the east, marking them out as a cut above the chasing pack and this game could ultimately prove to be a preview of this year’s Eastern Conference finals.
There’s not a huge amount between them heading into their third clash of the season - the Celtics are 20/21 to win this encounter by two points or more on the spread.
However, the Sixers head into this game off the back of claiming a crucial victory to kick-start their run-in.
The Sixers returned to action after the All-Star break with a gritty win, seeing off the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday night.
They trailed for most of the game after taking an early 7-6 lead, but struck late in the fourth to grind out a victory over one of the top teams in the Western Conference.
For a team which has had internal issues over the last 18 months, it was impressive how they rallied at the end. Joel Embiid showed up as the defensive presence he’s always promised to be, while James Harden continues to fly under the radar as a top playmaker.
The former MVP has hit double-figures for assists in five of his last seven and he’s 11/10 to repeat that on Saturday night.
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The Celtics have continued to prove themselves as genuine title contenders having won 17 of their last 22 games as they look to atone for having fallen just short last season.
However, the Sixers will see this as their window to claim a title having disappointed through so many postseasons of late. They’ve failed to win a second-round series with Embiid as their star, but the team looks like a more serious prospect this time around.
Adding PJ Tucker has boosted the Philly defence, just as he did at the Bucks and Miami Heat over the last two years.
The Sixers now rank among the top defences in the league and that showed as they pulled out that 110-105 victory over the Grizzlies earlier this week.
The Celtics have taken a minor step back as a unit since losing coach Ime Udoka, but they remain fourth in the league’s defensive ranking.
That was on full display in their last encounter as Boston held the Sixers under 100 points, something which has only happened twice in mid-November.
Given the defensive strengths of both sides, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this one end up low scoring. The total points line is set at 222.5 and the under is 10/11.
This is likely to be a game of small margins, which could tip the balance towards the Celtics. The visitors are a better all-round defence in the main categories, with the Sixers struggling with defending against fast breaks.
The hosts rank 28th in the league for fast break points conceded and the Celtics have the pace to hurt Philly on the counter-attack.
The visitors are well coached and that’s an area they should target, which could be enough to edge out a victory and to take the season series.
The Celtics are favoured on the spread but they’re also a good price for a straight win at 5/6 on the Money Line.