This article is part of our Handicapping the NBA series.
What do Mahershala Ali and Joel Embiid have in common? They will both be award winners by the end of the NBA season. Ali took home the Best Supporting Oscar for his role in Moonlight. Joel Embiid should be taking home the NBA Rookie of the Year award at the end of the season, as well.
Ali appeared in Moonlight for all of 20 minutes, which comes out to roughly 17 percent of the total runtime of the movie. Embiid has played in only 31 games for the Sixers. There is an argument that because Embiid did not play even half the season he is undeserving of the Rookie of the Year award. LIke Ali, the impact you have over even a small sample size is not just measured by wins and losses – or in the case of acting, total screen time – Embiid changed the culture of Philadelphia basketball, and the team followed him.
While PER is an offensively unbalanced statistic, only one center in the league has a higher PER than Embiid: Karl-Anthony Towns. For good measure, only 15 total players across all positions have a higher PER than Embiid. One stat is no way to quantify an entire player, but it is impressive nonetheless.
Last Week*: 1-1 (20-20-1 on the season)
*It's been two weeks since this column ran due to the All-Star break
Betting against the Knicks: Good idea
Betting against the Heat: Bad idea
On to this week!
76ers at Heat (-8.5)
The Miami Heat are on a tear. Aside from the Cavaliers (8-2 over their last 10 games), the Heat have been the best team in the Eastern Conference over that stretch. The upward-trending Heat match up with a 76ers team headed in the other direction. Erik Spoelstra is staring down a potential Coach of the Year award and a playoff push after a brutal start to the season.
With Joel Embiid out indefinitely, and the majority of the scoring falling on another rookie in Dario Saric, Miami has the experienced trio of Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside and Dion Waiters to throw at the Sixers on their home court.
The Pick: Heat -8.5
Rockets at Clippers (-1.5)
Over the last four contests, the Clippers have averaged 108 points per contest, which would be a strong number if not for the Rockets' 122 points per game over the same span. Houston's bread and butter is not, nor will it ever be, the defensive end of the floor under Mike D'Antoni.
The first time these two teams met this season, the Rockets put up 140 points and covered enough for one of those insane quintuple-the-line advanced bets – the same type of advanced line that diehard Falcons fans put the mortgage on. The Rockets have only been underdogs nine times this season (4-5), but the supreme scoring effort that Houston brings is similar to that of the Warriors.
Houston should be albe to edge out this game on the road, where they are 20-11 ATS this season.
The Pick: Rockets +1.5