June 7, 2023

Playoff Time — 76ers vs Nets Series Preview


Photo via NBA.com

To every Sixers fan that uttered the phrase “Wake me up when it’s the playoffs”, do not hit snooze on that alarm because it’s time to wake up.

The playoffs are finally here.

The Sixers finished the 2022-23 regular season with their best record since 2001 at 54-28. That record was good enough for the 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and they will take on the number 6 seed Brooklyn Nets. Three months ago this would be a terrifying first-round matchup for the Sixers, but now not so much.

The Last Dance?

While this may not be the last dance for Joel Embiid as a Sixer, for this current ideation of the Sixers it may be. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, “The ramifications could be significant” if the Sixers do not make the Eastern Conference Finals. The three most obvious moves that could be made are Doc Rivers, James Harden, and Tobias Harris. Rivers was brought to Philadelphia to be the person to take the team over the hump. Brett Brown took the team as far as he could and Rivers was the man who could bring championship pedigree to a team without any. Well as it turns out none of that has been true so far. The Sixers have failed to get past the second round with Rivers, and if he fails to do so again, it’s safe to assume he will not be the coach when the first ball is tipped next season. While Rivers gets a lot of criticism in Philadelphia I do believe he has done a good job this year. Joel Embiid has turned into an MVP-caliber player and James Harden has completely transformed his game into one of the best playmakers in the NBA. The coach deserves some credit for that. He has also shown that he is willing to adapt unlike in years past. He has used multiple closing lineups and has sat veterans like Harrell and Dedmon for a younger player Reed. But even with all of that, his tenure in Philadelphia will come down to playoff success. Rivers should not escape his first two playoffs with the team blameless, and anything less than a trip to the Conference Finals could mean the end of his time with the team.

Another player who could have their last dance in a Sixers uniform this playoff run is James Harden. Last offseason Harden signed a two-year $68.64 million deal with the Sixers, with the second year being a player option. With that player option, Harden can decline and enter free agency. There have been rumors dating back to Christmas Day that Harden wants to return to Houston in free agency. While this would be a puzzling move from a basketball standpoint, it’s obvious that he enjoys his lifestyle in Houston. This is similar to the rumors that he wanted to come to Philadelphia while he was in Houston and Brooklyn, and it ended up happening. Whether or not you believe the rumors, there is a very real chance that Harden is playing somewhere else next season. This would be devastating for the Sixers as Harden has shown that he can still be an extremely effective player in the NBA. In last year’s postseason, Harden was pretty disappointing. It was clear he was dealing with an injury, and despite one game, he was not the player the Sixers needed. These playoffs may also be his last chance to win a championship. If he does go back to Houston, it’s very unlikely the team will be able to compete for a championship while he is on the roster, so this might be his last chance to add that to his resume. Harden is the best teammate Embiid has ever played with, and the Sixers need him to step up in a big way if they want to get past the second round.

The player who fans will want the team to move on from the most is Tobias Harris. Unfortunately, he may be the hardest to move on from. After this season Harris will have one year left on his 5 years $180 million deal. Harris has not lived up to his massive contract, and if the team sputters again in the second round, many fans will be yelling for him to be gone. It will not be that easy as he is on the books for $39,270,150 next year. It will be very hard to find a team willing to take on that salary, and if you do you are more than likely getting a bad contract back. No one at this point expects Harris to play like a max player, but he just needs to do his job. Harris has struggled against some of the better teams this season, failing to score more than 20 points in any of those games. There will be a game this playoff run where the Sixers will need Harris to be the 2nd or 3rd scorer, and he has to show up.

The New Look Nets

If you have not been paying attention to the NBA this season then you will be very surprised by this current edition of the Brooklyn Nets. Kevin Durant was traded to the Phoenix Suns, and Kyrie Irving was traded to the Dallas Mavericks. Ben Simmons, who we all know and love, has been shut down for the season with a back injury. In the trade for Durant, the Nets added Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson who have both played well since joining the Nets. Bridges has been the Nets’ best player since coming to Brooklyn averaging 26.1 points. The new-look Nets do not have any All NBA-like players, but in the trades have been able to get some nice pieces in return.

The biggest challenge the Nets pose for the Sixers is their 3-point shooting. The Nets currently have 7 players on their roster that shoot 35% or better from 3. Claxton and Dinwiddie are the only players that will get significant playoff minutes who shoot worse than 35% from 3. While they do not have great ball-dominant guards, they can all beat you with their shots. The Sixers’ biggest weakness defensively is their guard defense and without Kyrie, they do not really have anyone to beat you off the dribble.

Another one of the positives about the Nets is that their lineup is very good at switching on defense. The Sixers love to take advantage of the mismatches that the Harden-Embiid pick and roll create, but with the Nets they will be able to switch those actions more successfully. Nic Claxton, the Nets Center, can defend on the perimeter if needed. Bridges, Dinwiddie, and Johnson are long players on the wing that can defend any position 1-4. If the Nets are going to be competitive in this series, it will be because of their defense.

76ers Are Heavy Favorites

According to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Sixers are currently -800 to win the series. Of the series that are currently set, they are the second largest favorites behind the Celtics. The Sixers are currently 4-0 against the Nets this season, but only one of those games was against this current edition of the Nets.

Ultimately this series is going to come down to the fact that the Sixers have Joel Embiid and the Nets do not. Against the Nets this season Embiid is averaging 31.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. Like every playoff series, the Nets’ defense will be primarily focused on Embiid. He needs to be able to make the right play and get his other teammates involved if his shot is not there. In the end, though, Nic Claxton is a good defender, but not good enough to shut down Embiid.

If there is one team that knows how to defend James Harden it’s his former team the Nets. Harden has been great this season at taking advantage of mismatches off screens and getting to his spots. The Nets’ defense is great at switching so it will be tougher to get the looks he wants. While ultimately the Sixers should win this series regardless, one of the ways it could be over early is if we see some vintage James Harden. With over a week off, he should be fresh and ready to go.

This should end up being a pretty quick series for the Sixers, and then we are onto the big test.

Game Times and Broadcasts

*: if necessary

Game 1: Saturday, April 15 at 1:00pm ET in Philadelphia on ESPN, NBC Sports Philadelphia, 97.5 The Fanatic
Game 2: Monday, April 17 at 7:30pm ET in Philadelphia on TNT, NBC Sports Philadelphia, 97.5 The Fanatic
Game 3: Thursday, April 20 at 7:30pm ET in Brooklyn on TNT, NBC Sports Philadelphia, 97.5 The Fanatic
Game 4: Saturday, April 22 at 1:00pm ET in Brooklyn on TBD
*Game 5: Monday, April 24 at TBD in Philadelphia on TBD
*Game 6: Thursday, April 27 at TBD in Brooklyn on TBD
*Game 7: Saturday, April 29 at TBD in Philadelphia on TBD

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