Can the Philadelphia 76ers Make a Playoff Run?
In the NBA it can take teams years to execute a successful rebuild. The Philadelphia 76ers were no exception, as they toiled through five painful seasons without a playoff appearance and posted sub 20-win seasons in three straight years. Just two years removed from winning only 10 games back in 2015-16, the 76ers have been one of the best stories in the NBA this season as they’ve clinched a playoff berth and play a particularly exciting brand of basketball that is predicated on young stars. With the NBA Playoffs right around the corner, we’ve made it our mission to figure out whether this current Philadelphia squad has what it takes to make a deep playoff run.
A Bright Future in a Rapidly-Changing Eastern Conference
After being a bottom-dweller in the Eastern Conference for a stretch, the 76ers defied the odds and won 50 games for the first time since the team went to the NBA Finals back in 2000-01. The Eastern Conference is up for the grabs this season more than ever as the Cavaliers have looked pedestrian and the Celtics will be without both Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving for this year’s postseason.
This specific 76ers team is built to contend for years to come as their main core of players are all still young and developing. The team’s dynamic duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are just 24 and 21 years old respectively, and players like Dario Saric (24), Robert Covington (27) and Markelle Fultz (19) have all stepped up and given other teams matchup nightmares. In a league that is driven by superstar players, the 76ers have drafted exceptionally well and their current roster is stockpiled with up-and-coming talent and potential All-Stars.
Do They Have What It Takes This Year?
Although the team’s long-term prognosis seems bright, to determine whether or not this particular Philly squad will succeed in the post-season, we must take a look at two factors – the team’s recent form and their record against teams they may match up with in the post-season. The team’s recent form has been spotless, as coach Brent Brown’s squad has won 14 straight games. Having positive momentum going at the beginning of the playoffs is always important and it appears the Sixers are peaking at the right time.
The 76ers are going to finish as either the No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the East, so they will likely play one of Milwaukee, Miami or Washington. Each of these potential matchups could be tricky given the fact that the Sixers have not won the season series against any of the three aforementioned teams. One particularly tricky matchup would be against Miami, who despite their 43-38 record, have beaten Philadelphia twice since late February.
Should the 76ers advance past the first round, they would face off against the Toronto Raptors or the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round. Philly and Toronto haven’t played each other since January but the Raptors would be a tough opponent for the Sixers to knock-off. Toronto outplayed Philadelphia in the season series, taking three-out-of-four games and winning by margins of 34, 5 and 16. There is still some hope for Philadelphia winning that potential series as they squeaked by with a six-point win in the two teams’ final meeting. A potential meeting with the Cavaliers seems much more palatable for Brent Brown’s team as the Cavaliers have fallen to the Sixers twice in the past two months.
What Will It Take for The Sixers to Succeed in the Playoffs This Season?
This brings us to one simple question: what will the 76ers need to do to advance deep into the playoffs? First and foremost, they need to stay healthy. Their spectacular core is littered with injury-prone players with the likes of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz having all missed significant game time since being drafted by the team. As things currently stand, Embiid is still recovering from a broken orbital bone. His health will be paramount if Philly is able to advance to the late stages of this year’s playoffs.
The second thing that the 76ers need to do is continue how they’ve played as of late. Winning 14 straight games is no fluke and the team has been fantastic lately due to their increased scoring and stifling team defense. Philadelphia ranks third in the league in defensive efficiency, and if they want to beat the likes of Toronto and Cleveland, their defense will have to be spectacular. Their offense has looked fantastic for most of the season, and the team needs to be sure to keep scoring points by the bucket full.
This Sixers bunch poses tremendous matchup problems for most opponents due to the versatility of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. The two have very well-rounded skill sets and Embiid’s range and Simmons’ ability to play multiple positions will be both be key to the team’s overall success.
Simmons can be un-guardable when he’s on his A-game, and Philly will be counting on him in a big way this postseason. His shooting leaves a bit to be desired but he’s also able to help the team in other ways by driving to the basket and by finding his teammates for easy baskets.
It certainly won’t be easy but there’s plenty of reason to believe that this Sixers squad could go on a deep playoff run this season and they should continue to contend in the Eastern Conference for many years to come. They are a squad that can lock down opposing teams on defense, and given their litany of solid scoring options it wouldn’t be surprising to see Philadelphia in this year’s Eastern Conference Finals or beyond.
(Cropped image courtesy of Shinya Suzuki via Flickr.)