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NBA Eastern Conference opening-round betting preview

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We previewed the Western Conference playoffs Thursday, which means the East is up next.

The Celtics are still waiting to find out if they play the Heat or Bulls, so we're providing analysis and picks for the other three East series.

(2) Knicks vs. (7) Sixers

Series spread: Knicks -110/Sixers -110

The Knicks' reward for earning the 2-seed is an opening-round matchup against one of the NBA's best teams. The Sixers are no ordinary 7-seed. Philadelphia fell to the bottom of the standings because of Joel Embiid's two-month absence. With Embiid, the Sixers are 32-8 and have the league's second-best net rating.

The Knicks remarkably withstood extended absences from three of their five starters and continued to win because of Jalen Brunson's MVP-caliber campaign.

Philly's overall talent is better than New York's. But that doesn't guarantee the 76ers anything. The Knicks' physical, tough-minded, defensive-oriented approach is a nightmare for opposing offenses. New York has the personnel to play big and small lineups with OG Anunoby's ability to guard any position.

The Knicks' heliocentric offensive approach involves constant ball screens for Brunson. New York has the highest pick-and-roll frequency among playoff teams. Brunson has one of the league's highest usage rates but is still super efficient.

The Sixers need to get creative with their coverages, including blitzing Brunson in the pick-and-roll to force his supporting cast to make plays. Josh Hart's an excellent slasher, passer, and rebounder, but he needs to make shots for the Knicks to win. Hart connected on just 31% of his threes this season. Miles McBride will play a huge role in defending Tyrese Maxey. He'll also get open looks from three playing alongside Brunson and sharpshooter Donte DiVincenzo.

Embiid's health and conditioning will determine this series. Despite the Knicks' defensive tenacity and size they can throw at him, the reigning MVP's unstoppable when healthy.

It's not clear if Embiid was hurt or out of shape, but he wasn't moving well for much of Philly's play-in game against Miami. He gutted it out and made crucial plays down the stretch, but the Knicks will exploit Embiid if he isn't 100%.

The Knicks' advantage will come on the offensive glass, where they generate extra possessions. New York has the NBA's best offensive rebounding percentage, while the Sixers are towards the bottom in opponent offensive rebounding percentage.

New York plays with the NBA's slowest pace, which could favor Embiid if he's fatigued. The Knicks should consider playing faster to force more movement from Embiid.

The team that withstands the most blows will win the battle of the I-95. It's impossible to question the Knicks' toughness, but the Sixers showed grit against Miami in a must-win game.

This series will go the distance. Although it'll be difficult for the Sixers to win a Game 7 at a raucous Madison Square Garden, there's enough value on Philly to win in seven to pull the trigger.

Bet: Series to go 7 Games (+190), Sixers in 7 (+550)

(3) Bucks vs. (6) Pacers

Series spread: Bucks -110/Pacers -110

Giannis Antetokounmpo is dealing with an injury in the first round for the second straight season. He's expected to miss Game 1 and his status beyond that is a mystery.

It's fair to assume Antetokounmpo will miss a large chunk of the series and won't be at full strength if he does return. But even before his injury, the Bucks had red flags everywhere. Milwaukee went 8-12 in its last 20 games and its defense had gaping holes.

Damian Lillard may have a different gear in the playoffs, but he's coming off one of his worst and most inefficient regular seasons in the last few years.

The Pacers defeated the Bucks four out of five times this season when Adrian Griffin was on the sideline for Milwaukee. The Bucks allowed 128.8 points per game to Indiana in those five contests.

Antetokounmpo unleashed 64 points in the Bucks' lone win. But even in Milwaukee's losses, Indiana had no answers for the Greek Freak; he averaged 42.2 points per game. But that was before Pascal Siakam arrived in Indiana. Plus, regular-season results don't always translate to the postseason.

Antetokounmpo's impact is monumental. The Bucks have a minus-4.6 net rating with him off the floor, on par with lottery teams like the Nets, Jazz, and Raptors.

Although they've made strides, the Pacers are dreadful defensively, especially at the point of attack. They caught a massive break playing the Bucks without Giannis - at least to start.

The Bucks don't have enough weapons to take advantage of the Pacers' porous defense or keep scoring pace with Indiana's unstoppable offense. Khris Middleton is closer to retirement than his prime. He hasn't had a notable, injury-free two-week stretch since December.

Tyrese Haliburton's breakout season has led Indiana to this point. However, he hasn't been the same since returning from a hamstring injury in late January. He averaged 17.3 points and 9.6 assists after the All-Star break. Before the midseason break, he poured in 21.8 points and dished 11.7 assists per game.

The Pacers need Haliburton to be a reliable creator - for himself and his teammates - against the Bucks' weak perimeter defenders. He averaged 27 points and 11 assists in five games against Milwaukee.

With Giannis, the Bucks would be favored - and likely win. But his injury appears serious. The Pacers will win if he misses more than half the series.

A Bucks season that started with unbridled optimism alongside a new point guard and coach has turned into a disaster. It'll end in the opening round for the second consecutive year.

Bet: Pacers -110

(4) Cavs vs. (5) Magic

Series spread: Cavs -195/Magic +165

The Magic are tougher and more physical than the Cavs, who showcased their weakness in last year's playoffs against the Knicks. But that New York group had offensive firepower to complement its rugged defense.

The Magic have the NBA's third-best defense, but their offense is too inept to compete against Cleveland's seventh-best defense. Orlando has the league's eighth-worst offense.

Many of these games will be low-scoring, defensive battles (there's a reason the NBA scheduled some of this series on NBA TV). The Game 1 total is set at 207.5.

Cleveland could have trouble in two areas: rebounding and turnovers. Orlando's offense only survives because it's elite at grabbing offensive boards, creating more opportunities to score. The Cavs, even when they implement a two-big lineup with Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley, struggle to keep teams off the glass.

Another element that unlocks the Magic's offense is their ability to generate turnovers. Orlando has the second-best opponent turnover percentage and averages the second-most points off turnovers. That's bad news for the Cavs, who turn the ball over at a high rate.

The difference will be Donovan Mitchell, the best shot-creator and shotmaker in the series. The Magic don't have the necessary backcourt scoring to win a seven-game series. Orlando might make it interesting, but its surprising playoff appearance and feel-good season will end in the opening round.

Bet: Cavs -1.5 games (+125)

Sam Oshtry is a sports betting writer at theScore. You can follow him on X @soshtry for more betting coverage.

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