TNT will have an interesting pair of games to kick off their weekly double-headers.
First, the clash of Eastern Conference titans between the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks. Both are projected right next to one another in the standings and boast Most Valuable Player candidates. There will be a battle for Eastern Conference supremacy on Thursday night.
Following that Eastern Conference blockbuster is a more interesting and unknown matchup between the Los Angeles Clipper and Los Angeles Lakers. Both have significant questions heading into the seasons and their battle on Thursday night will be an ideal litmus test for both squads to see where they are at early in the season.
Let’s dive into both matchups.
Philadelphia 76ers vs Milwaukee Bucks
Thursday, 10/20 at 5:30pm MST on TNT
The very first TNT double-header of the 2022-23 NBA regular season will tip off in Philadelphia at 5:30 MST with a battle between Eastern Conference titans in the 76ers and Bucks.
Could this be a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals? That is certainly a possibility, but both teams have to prove their worthiness before being championed as true contenders for the NBA title. That will begin Thursday night.
Both the Bucks (52.5) and 76ers (50.5) have win totals over 50 according to DraftKings Sportsbook and project to be powerhouses in a startlingly tough Eastern Conference, but where they fit among true title contenders is still to be debated.
Philadelphia has every piece needed to win the title. Joel Embiid — one of the two best centers in all of basketball — will be an early-season frontrunner for Most Valuable Player award this year (Embiid has third-best odds according to DraftKings Sportsbook at +650) and, when healthy, James Harden seems to be a perfect running mate for Embiid. The question with them is not if they can win regular season games; it lies in the struggles Harden and head coach Doc Rivers have had in the postseason. Harden has fallen flat or shied away in seemingly every elimination game and few head coaches have as many postseason faux pas as Rivers.
Can they overcome the playoff gaffes of years past and finally get over the hump, or is the only value to bettors lie in the 76ers regular season success? At DraftKings, the 76ers have the fourth-best odds (+1500) to win the title among Eastern Conference teams and seventh overall. Simply put, Vegas does not seem them as the contender most likely to enjoy postseason success.
The Bucks situation is more simple. The questions are do you believe that Giannis Antetokounmpo will continue to to play at an MVP level — he has second-best odds at MVP according to DraftKings at +600 — and if you believe they can replicate their 2021 path to the title; by bludgeoning their way to the trophy. The Bucks still right above the 76ers when it comes to odds to win the title. According to DraftKings, they are +800 to win it all which is third-best in the Eastern Conference and fifth-best across the league.
Los Angeles Lakers vs Los Angeles Clippers
Thursday, 10/20 at 8pm MST on TNT
Well, despite whatever happens, the attention this matchup with garner in the battle between both Los Angeles teams will be immense. Can the Lakers overcome their disastrous season last year? Are the Clippers really the odds-on favorite to win the title or are they simply great on paper? Will the Lakers be able to solve their Russell Westbrook conundrum? Will someone step up as the Clippers third-best player alongside Kawhi Leonard and Paul George? Can this Lakers somewhat revamped roster thrive? Will John Wall really be able to bounce back after such a long time away from NBA basketball?
These questions, as numerous and important as they are, barely scratch the surface. Both teams have a lot to sort through which will make this battle an opportunity to gauge where each team is at.
For the Lakers, their ceiling depends heavily on just how good Anthony Davis can be this year. Can he get back being to a top-five player and compete for MVP this season? Currently, Davis is pretty far down the list when it comes to MVP odds. According to DraftKings, he is +6000 to win MVP which is tied for 17th-best. In addition to the team staying healthy, Davis has to be elite for the Lakers to join the list of title contenders. Of course, this also assumes the Lakers staying healthy which is not exactly a strong bet considering their track record and razor-thin depth.
The Clippers on the other hand have one potential MVP candidate in Leonard who has the 10th-best odds at +2500 according to DraftKings, a bonafide All-Star in George, and a whole host of good players up and down their roster. That is why the Clippers are in a three-way tie with the Celtics and Warriors for the best odds to win the title this season at +600 on DraftKings.
Still, for expectations that high, the Clippers have a lot to prove. Thursday will be the perfect opportunity to begin discovering if they are for real or not.
Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation.