Cavs vs. 76ers Preview: Toughest Defensive Test Yet for New-Look Philly

Cavaliers vs. 76ers Odds

Cavaliers Odds +7.5
76ers Odds -7.5
Over/Under 219.5
Time 7 p.m. ET
TV NBA League Pass
Odds via BetMGM. Get up-to-the-minute NBA odds here.

The Philadelphia 76ers have been unstoppable since trading for James Harden — who seems much healthier all of a sudden! — going 3-0 straight up and against the spread since the deal. The Cleveland Cavaliers are in a bit of a spiral, having lost five of their last six, with the first of those losses at the hands of the Sixers.

Can the Cavs figure out a way to defend the Embiid-Harden duo, or will the Sixers romp continue?

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Cavs Offense Struggling

The Cavs finally got Darius Garland back from his back injury vs. the Hornets and he’s not listed on the injury report. You should be a little wary in case that back injury flares up, but as of right now it’s not a concern.

Caris LeVert and Colin Sexton are out, and Rajon Rondo is doubtful.

The Cavaliers’ offense has been a disaster as of late; the Cavs are 26th in offense the last two weeks and just 15th on defense. Garland’s absence has contributed to that, but even with him, the Cavaliers have struggled. Without LeVert (and Ricky Rubio, and Sexton), they just don’t have the perimeter creators to open things up.

In this matchup, even their defense is vulnerable. Over the last four seasons, Jarrett Allen has given up a 60% eFG to Joel Embiid, nearly eight points higher than Embiid’s expected mark in those matchups. Allen is a great defender but can’t handle Embiid’s physicality, which is how Embiid went for a 40-point triple-double in their last meeting and got to the line for 15 free throws.

What’s interesting is that when you dive into that last matchup, the Cavs didn’t get crushed in any particular play set or area. They weren’t overwhelmed on the offensive glass, didn’t get run over, and didn’t lose badly from 3-point range (10 makes for Philly to 8 for the Cavs). Embiid just found enough sequences to slip in between to be effective.

Based on that, there’s reason to think that the Cavs can slow them down again, but their offense is going to have to find a way to produce, and that’s a big concern.

76ers Will Face Toughest Defense Since Acquiring Harden

No injury concerns for the Sixers.

When the Sixers run pick and roll with James Harden and Joel Embiid, they’re scoring 1.3 points per possession, which is basically hotter than the sun. If you drop, Harden hits you with a pull-up 3 or a floater. If you double him, he finds Embiid lose for a short jumper or a drive for a foul. If you switch it, Harden or Embiid draws a foul on you. If you leap out of the way entirely, they draw a foul on you.

You get the picture.

Their free throw rate has been insane since the pair started playing together. The Cavs have the second-lowest free throw rate of any team this season, but they still gave up a higher mark than average in their last meeting with Philly.

The Sixers also aren’t just Harden and Embiid. They’re getting great contributions from Tyrese Maxey, and Tobias Harris has shown some life offensively recently.

The Sixers are a juggernaut, but they’ve also played the Wolves and the Knicks twice since Harden’s debut. The Cavs will be the best team they’ve faced so far.

Cavaliers-76ers Pick

Objectively, I have to give the Cavs the edge here. I have this projected at Sixers -2.9 based on full-season numbers. Even adjusting for Harden and the improved standard the Sixers have played at, I can’t get to 7.5 But that doesn’t mean I want to play it.

However, I do like the under of 219.5. The Sixers haven’t played a defense this good and while Embiid should feast as he always does, the Cavs should do a better job defensively against the non-star-Sixers, enough to slow them down. The Sixers’ defense gave up a higher team total than the line in both games vs. the Knicks, but this Cavs offense is actually worse.

I’ll stick to the under and stay away from the side, with some concern that the Sixers may prove to be too much and trigger the over at the free throw line.

Pick: Under 219.5