Before the NBA season started, the Philadelphia 76ers were seen as one of the favorites to make it to the NBA finals. They have not lived up to those expectations and currently sit 6th in the eastern conference. Today we explore how far the Sixers can go in the playoffs.
Sixers Need a Strong First Round Performance
In a perfect world where the Sixers play their best basketball during the playoffs, I think they can make the NBA finals. I don’t see that happening but the potential is there. They have two young stars that are matchup nightmares for most teams. As a unit, they probably have the most talented starting 5 in the league on paper. While that hasn’t necessarily translated to wins, you can see what they were trying to do. The biggest problem for Philly is they have no consistent outside shooting despite all of that talent. After losing Jimmy Butler, they signed Josh Richardson who is a similar type of player, although not as talented as Butler. They re-signed Tobias Harris for way too much (we’ll get into that later) and brought in Al Horford to provide that veteran experience and post defense. The Al Horford experiment has been especially disappointing, so much so that he has been booed in some home games.
I think if the Sixers want to surprise anyone and make it to the Finals, they will need to have a strong first round showing. The way the playoffs are shaping up, it looks like they will most likely face either the Celtics or the Raptors. If they can get by either one of those two teams, they will have put the rest of the league on notice. The two aforementioned teams have played much better basketball than the Sixers and also have the edge when it comes to coaching. It has to be said that if Philly could pick they would clearly choose the Celtics who they have played very well against. Revenge against the Raptors sounds good for fans but in reality, that is the team they want to avoid most other than Milwaukee in the East.
Sixers Need to Get Lucky in Second Round
In order to make an improbable run to the NBA finals, the Sixers need a favorable second round matchup. If they do get past the Celtics or the Raptors in the first round, they will need a team that is less talented than they are. The Indiana Pacers meet that criteria although it wouldn’t exactly be a cakewalk either. As I mentioned earlier, these scenarios are based on the current standings. If Philadelphia got to the second round, they would play the winner of Miami and Indiana. I honestly believe that they could beat either team but Miami is the tougher matchup. Some people might say Indiana because of their size but I’ll be the first to admit that even though it’s considered a strength for this, it’s a bit overrated. Opposing big men in the east don’t seem to be too worried about Sabonis and Turner down low for the Pacers. Here is a breakdown of what the top 3 big men in the east other than Joel Embiid average against the Pacers this season:
- Andre Drummond 23.4 points, 17.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists
- Bam Adebayo 18 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists
- Nikola Vucevic 18 points, 17 rebounds and 3 assists
None of these players are on Joel Embiid’s level so you can see where I’m going with this. Embiid’s numbers against the Pacers this year; 33.3 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 assists per game. While the Pacers have overachieved this season without Victor Oladipo for most of the year, the Sixers have clearly been the opposite of that. If the Sixers were to beat the Raptors or Celtics in the first round only to lose to Indiana in the second round would be a disaster for them. The Pacers might be the favorites if the two were to meet in the playoffs but that would be in seeding only. As for the possibility of playing the Heat, I see that as closer to a 50-50 proposition. I think it’s a weird matchup for both teams and I’m not sure who would have the upper hand especially because of home court advantage. Miami and Philadelphia are two of the best home teams while also being among the worst road teams in the league. How a neutral venue will affect either team is anyone’s guess.
Eastern Conference Finals Are Probably as Far as Philly Goes
I don’t think this Sixers roster can win an NBA championship as presently constructed. If they were to lose in the first round, that wouldn’t be a surprise considering what we’ve seen this season. That being said, I wouldn’t be shocked if they reached the conference finals this year either. If they do get there, their opponent would be the Milwaukee Bucks unless we see a collapse of epic proportions from Giannis and crew in the early rounds. That said, I think Milwaukee has the best player in the series, the best coach, and also a clear identity. Last year Milwaukee had an incredible regular season before they lost to the Raptors in the eastern conference finals. Coming into this season, there were a few skeptics that thought that Milwaukee would have a hard time replicating what they did last year. That has not been the case at all. They have literally picked up from where they left off last year.
It’s NBA finals or bust for the Bucks while Philly is still trying in the process (no pun intended) of figuring things out. I really think coaching will be the ultimate difference here. I don’t feel like trashing Brett Brown but I think this is the end of the road for him in Philadelphia. This is the best example I can give you of why. If the Bucks had Brett Brown and the Sixers had Mike Budenholzer, I would pick the Sixers to win the series. Coach Budenholzer is doing in Milwaukee exactly what he did in Atlanta. He maximizes the talent of the players on his roster by putting them in the best position to succeed. We still don’t know what the Sixers do best even though Brown has been there for the entire “process” yet still hasn’t figured it out.
Philadelphia spent a lot of money last offseason, although a lot of it foolishly. When I say foolishly I mean, there is no planet where Tobias Harris and Al Horford getting a combined $61 million in salary for this year looks smart. That wasn’t Brett Brown’s mistake but the last couple of seasons have definitely been his failures including the current regular season. To answer the question of how far I think the Sixers can go in the NBA playoffs, the conference finals would be my answer although I don’t think it will happen because of their lack of shooting, coaching, and overall identity.