76ers opened as favorites over Knicks, a rarity for a No. 7 seed in the NBA playoffs

The New York Knicks had a fantastic season, including a season-ending overtime win to move up to the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Their reward was opening as underdogs for their first-round series.

It's very rare for a No. 7 seed to be favored in a first-round series. It has happened only once since 1988, according to BetMGM. But that could change this year.

The 76ers opened as -120 favorites over the Knicks at BetMGM. Then the odds evened out, and both teams are -110 as of Thursday afternoon. Those odds could change again before the series begins Saturday.

No matter where the odds land, there's good reason for the Knicks to feel disrespected.

Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers are set to take on the Knicks in the first round of the NBA playoffs. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)

Being an underdog as a No. 2 seed

The only other time since 1988 that a No. 7 seed was favored was 2021. That year, the Los Angeles Lakers were a big -175 favorite over the No. 2 seed Phoenix Suns. LeBron James and Anthony Davis, fresh off the 2020 NBA championship run, had missed a lot of the regular-season due to injuries. That's why the Lakers barely got into the playoffs. The betting market understood the situation and knew the Lakers were far better than the normal No. 7 seed and made them the favorites.

However, it didn't work out for those bettors taking the favored Lakers. The Suns won the series 4-2 and ended up advancing to the NBA Finals. Phoenix took the final three games in the series, and their average margin of victory in the series was 15 points.

Perhaps there's a lesson to learn from that series just a few years ago. Knicks fans are hoping so.

76ers were very good with Joel Embiid

Like those Lakers, the 76ers aren't a normal No. 7 seed.

Joel Embiid, the league's reigning MVP, missed 43 games this season. Most of those were due to a left knee injury. Embiid returned April 2 and appears to be his old self. In the 76ers' last two regular-season games, he averaged 34.5 points and 12 rebounds, and in a play-in win over the Miami Heat, he had 23 points and 15 rebounds.

This is no surprise, but the 76ers are a different team with Embiid. They were 31-8 in the regular season with him in the lineup and 16-27 without him. That 79.4 winning percentage with Embiid was better than the Boston Celtics' season-long mark of 78%, and the Celtics had the best record in the NBA this season.

In practical terms, the 76ers played like the best team in the NBA when Embiid was on the floor. It's an unfortunate break for the Knicks that they battled to get the No. 2 seed and now get to face that 76ers team in the first round, but it's not like the Knicks are incapable of winning. The Knicks were also excellent this season, posting a 50-32 record. The only time the Knicks and 76ers met this season when Embiid was healthy, New York won by 36 points in Philadelphia on Jan. 5.

It makes for an intriguing series, arguably the best of the first-round matchups. For the Knicks, they're hoping it goes just like it did for the last No. 2 seed that was an underdog.