Ah, the playoffs. Can you feel it? As the Sixers vault themselves into the playoffs from the pits of which we were told they would never return, fans of potential opponents shiver at the thought of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons coming into town for a first round matchup.
But will the moment actually come? Will Joel Embiid be standing over a rejected opponent who is down 3-1 in the series, with the clock winding to zero in game 5, Sixers up 106-99, Joel screaming “And you will know my name is The Process, when I lay my vengeance upon thee!”
I guess it’s too early to answer that question. But we can take a look at which matchup offers the most potential for that moment. What matchup gives the Sixers the greatest potential to advance into the first round?
We can narrow the lists of suspects (victims?) down to 4 teams: If the Sixers finish anywhere from 3rd to 6th, their opponent is likely to be one of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards or Miami Heat. How have the Sixers performed against these teams, how do they matchup?
Season series: Sixers are 1-2, with 1 game left to play
Best (only) win: March 1st, 108-97
Worst loss: November 27th, 113-91
Sixers Avgd. ORtg: 105.9
Sixers Avgd. DRtg: 112.3
This is tough to call. Or is it? On one hand, the Sixers have played like a much better team of late than the Cavs; the Sixers just have more depth. Imagine that, the Sixers have depth! Not so much bench depth; but the Sixers best 5 man lineup doesn’t have any significant drop-off on the backend. The Cavs best 5 man? I don’t know what it is, but Jeff Green sniffed 40 minutes for them just last night.
Yet so much of the speculation rests around what LeBron will do. I mean, the guy can single-handedly win a game. A series, even. It’s almost as simple as asking yourself, “will LeBron allow himself to be booted in the first round?” Can the Cavs flick the proverbial switch? LeBron James’ lead teams in the playoffs have never been eliminated in the first round.
Look, I just don’t want a Sixers/Cavs first round matchup. Call me a wuss. I’d love to see the Sixers topple LBJ. What a story line. I would have material for an entire month. But something tells me LeBron would turn it on against the Sixers more so than any other opponent. (FWIW: He’s averaging 30 ppg, 12 rpg and 9 apg against the Sixers this year.)
If you really want to see a showdown between the King and the Fresh Prince (aware of the cheesey-ness of that nickname, but it works in this instance), you should be hoping for so later than the first round.
Season series: Sixers are 1-2, no games left to play
Best (only) win: November 3rd, 121-110
Worst loss: February 3rd, 100-92 (worst only in terms of points, with the recent 101-98 loss being truly painful to watch)
Sixers Avgd. ORtg: 104.4
Sixers Avgd. DRtg: 104.4
I like this matchup. I really like this matchup. The Sixers have performed somewhat even as, and against, the Pacers. There was that maddening loss recently that saw the Sixers turnover machine greased up nice and sloppy, moving at full speed. But even in that March 13th game, the Pacers won by the skin of their teeth despite a +12 turnover differential. The Sixers can run with the Pacers.
The Pacers really take care of the ball, as their 6th best 13.5 TOV per game indicate. But the Sixers have the defensive tools to slow them down. The Pacers ORtg is 5 points lower against the Sixers than their season ORtg of 109.4. And the Pacers eFG% vs. the Sixers of 47.6% is nearly 5 points lower than their season percentage of 52.5%. All of this is subject to small sample size criticism, but it has seemed that the Sixers are able to get the Pacers off their game.
Some would assume slowing Victor Oladipo down would be the remedy needed by the Sixers to win a 7 game series. I’m not so sure, though. The Sixers can live with a good ‘Dipo series. It’s the Pacers’ mid-level players that the Sixers need to watch. Guys like Miles Turner and Bojan Bogdanovich have given the Sixers problems this season. If they’re able to limit the effectiveness of Indy’s role players, and essentially force Oladipo to attempt to will the Pacers past the Sixers, it could be a pretty easy series for the Sixers.
Season series: Sixers are 2-2, no games left to play
Best win: February 6th, 115-102
Worst loss: February 25th, 109-94
Sixers Avgd. ORtg: 111.9
Sixers Avgd. DRtg: 112.4
The Wizards have some really good individual talent. And they’ve been winning without John Wall (although some would say that’s why they are winning). But I think this is the type of series that could put Joel Embiid in the “Oh shit, I knew he was good. But I didn’t know he was that good” national conversation. Embiid has straight dominated the Wizards to the tune of 23.8 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 3.5 apg and 2.3 bpg. The Wiz just don’t have an answer for him. He’s averaged 30 minutes a game vs. them, and in the playoffs, that number could creep it by 5 or 6.
The Wizards backcourt would give the Sixers fits, for sure. In particular, Bradley Beal seems unguardable. Which has contributed to the Wizards/Sixers matchups being some of the more high scoring affairs this season, relative to Sixers’ games. But this comes back to Joel Embiid again. The Sixers really need to be abusive on the boards to negate the Wiz backcourt. Grabbing every second chance possible on offense, and denying 2nd chance points defensively. In the Sixers wins against the Wizards this season, they’ve outrebounded the Wiz 109 to 74. In their losses? Sixers have a combined 91 rebounds to the Wizards 100.
Season series: Sixers are 2-2, no games left to play
Best win: February 2nd, 103-97
Worst loss: March 8th, 108-99, although the 102-101 loss maybe hurt more
Sixers Avgd. ORtg: 105.6
Sixers Avgd. DRtg: 106.1
100% no. I don’t want the Heat. Want nothing to do with them. It’s not that I don’t think the Sixers are a better team through 7 games. It’s just that this Heat team scares me. Things just seem to go the Heat’s way when these two face off. I don’t even have numbers to back that up. Out of these four playoff scenarios, I’ve researched Sixers/Heat matchups the least. Don’t need to. Whiteside has the ability to put Embiid in foul trouble. Dwayne Wade WILL go off. Goran Dragic, as undeserving of Simmons’ All-Star nod as he was, is a savvy point guard the Sixers have had trouble with (Well, he’s actually had two bad games vs. Sixers). James Johnson relishes the opportunity to guard Ben.
Most importantly, it would be a huge personal morale blow to see the Sixers get bounced by 6th/7th seeded Heat, more so than any team other than maybe the Pacers. Too much emotional liability vs. potential to win. PASS.
In order from most to least, I would put who the Sixers want in the first round as follows
- Indiana Pacers
- Washington Wizards
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Miami Heat
Please annihilate my thought process of wanting LeBron more than Miami below. But first! Cast your vote in the poll below:
Who would you most want the Sixers to draw in the first round?
This poll is closed