Jazz vs. 76ers Preview: Can the Sixers Punch Above Their Weight?

Action Network NBA betting analyst Kenny Ducey previews Thursday's NBA TV matchup between the Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers.

Jazz vs. 76ers Odds

Jazz Odds -3.5
76ers Odds +3.5
Over/Under 216.5
Time 7 p.m. ET
Odds via <!–BetMGM–>BetMGM. Get up-to-the-minute NBA odds here.

Don’t look now, but the Sixers are getting hot. Philly got Joel Embiid back a couple of weeks ago, and has won four of its past five. Thursday will be a great litmus test, when they host the 17-7 Utah Jazz.

Are we buying into the red-hot Sixers at home, or will the Jazz simply add them to the list of their victims? Let’s take a look at this one.

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The Jazz Are Great, But Vulnerable

On the surface, it would appear there’s no stopping these Utah Jazz. They have won five straight and six of their last eight, but in that time-frame they’ve gone just 3-5 against the spread. They enjoyed some huge wins over Minnesota, Portland and New Orleans, but had some scares against the Cavaliers and Celtics and lost outright to those same Pelicans and the Grizzlies.

Offense hasn’t been an issue for the Jazz; they lead the way in points scored per possessions over the last eight games by a decent margin with an Offensive Rating of 122.1. The defense has really slipped, ranking 16th in efficiency rating, and it’s been partially due to the interior defense.

While Utah is allowing 59.6% shooting in the restricted area in the last eight games, which is 3.2 percentage points better than its elite mark of 62.9 for the season, it has seen an increase in field goal percentage in the surrounding paint and from mid-range. That is scary considering Utah is getting set to face a dominant force inside the arc in Embiid.

Because the offense has hummed along while the defense struggles, Utah has turned into an over machine. In fact, the over has now gone 9-1 over its last 10 games, cashing by 22 points in Minnesota earlier this week and by 57.5 against Boston last weekend.

Can Philly’s Offense Get Back on Track

The Sixers absolutely love taking shots inside. Philly ranks inside the top 10 in shots taken in the paint (not including the restricted area) and in the top 10 in mid-range attempts per game. It has shot a decent 42.4% and 41.7%, respectively, which are numbers that only stand to improve with Embiid back in the lineup.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about how Philly has transformed right back into a contender with the re-installation of Embiid. The Sixers have gone 4-2 since he was removed from the league’s health and safety protocols, losing both games by a slim one-point margin.

Despite the success in the win column, though, they have only covered in two of these games with oddsmakers immediately hitting the gas once Embiid returned and making Philly a heavy favorite against Minnesota, Orlando and Charlotte (twice).

Philly’s offense has continued to lag behind even with Embiid back, ranking 24th in scoring per 100 possessions in the six games since his return, but its elite defense has returned. The Sixers have allowed just 105.3 points per 100 possessions, ranking sixth in the league in that span.

Jazz-76ers Pick

We’re stuck in a bit of a conundrum with this game. We know the Jazz have had an elite defense for the past couple of years and rank eighth this season in that category, but they’ve struggled mightily lately on that end. The Sixers have been one of the league’s best offenses this season, but have had issues scoring lately. Who budges?

Well, the Sixers are really weighted down by two horrible offensive performances against Boston and Orlando in two of Embiid’s first three games back. The Celtics have played great defense all year long and the Magic have actually been somewhat effective against opposing bigs. In the last three games, the Sixers have a much more respectable 114.7 offensive rating while this Jazz defense continues to struggle.

I think the specific issues the Jazz have had inside lately could spell disaster for Utah. I believe in this Sixers team, which is finally fully healthy, and I believe this is a great team at home. It’s hard to read into the ATS trends so far this year given the Sixers have dealt with so many injuries (and have only played 10 times at home, anyway).

I’m backing the Sixers to come out swinging here and expose this Jazz defense.

Pick: Sixers +3.5 (-110)