It’s been a long, long road, but the end is finally near: the Sixers, tanking kings of the decade, have clinched a playoff spot. This doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention this season. But to have it actually happen, though, after years of ridicule and controversy is vindication for all of the suffering their fans have gone through (even if the architect himself, Sam Hinkie, isn’t around to enjoy that success). Now that the playoffs are finally coming back to the city of Brotherly Love, can their two best players step it up to make a deep run?
Much of their hopes rest on the back of forward Ben Simmons. Center Joel Embiid, in the most Sixers thing to ever happen, is going to miss at least one game of the playoffs after guard Markelle Fultz head-butted him in one of his first games back after missing most of the season with a mysterious injury. Even if he does only miss a single game, it may take him a game or two to get back into the flow of things after missing nearly all of the last month of the season. Simmons has to step up and be the man for this team, something he’s shown to be quite comfortable with over the last few games. Simmons is the team’s best playmaker, and playing him as a point guard gives them a big size advantage on both sides of the ball.
The problem, of course, is that Simmons has made exactly one three-pointer since he left high school and generally can’t shoot outside of 15 feet. The team has made it work this season with the help of Embiid’s three-point shooting, but defense gets tighter and coaches become bold come playoff time. They’re going to pack the paint and force Simmons to either try to start making his jumpshots or barrel through three defenders down low to score. It’s going to be difficult, but Simmons is so talented at affecting the game in other ways that, even if he can’t score, the team still has a chance. The triple-double machine is averaging eight assists with only three turnovers per game and has made some truly astounding passes for any player, much less a rookie. If he can continue to produce those numbers under the bright lights and physical defense of the playoffs, Sixers fans have reason to be optimistic.
Of course, the difference between Philly being a good team and a great team lies with one man: Twitter god Joel Embiid. The problem is, he’s hurt once again.
Defensively, Embiid is the centerpiece. He’s been the league’s premier rim protector all season with Rudy Gobert missing time to injury and has a decent case for Defensive Player of the Year, averaging nearly two blocks a game and transforming the team’s defense while on the floor. Embiid was always the key to this team, and now his injury has once again thrown a promising season into flux.
Tags: 76ers, Ben Simmons, Liam McKeone, NBA
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