(Dear Boston, I feel you. No, seriously. I’ve been there -- having something taken away from me at a time where it would be really exciting. Don’t get me wrong, guys. The Celtics can still pound sand, but I hope Kyrie and Gordon Hayward get back to full strength. A renewed Sixers/Celtics rivalry gives me a little more purpose.)
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way. Hey, look. The Celtics just lost guard Kyrie Irving for the remainder of the season and the playoffs.
In the aftermath of left knee surgery, Boston Celtics All-Star guard Kyrie Irving will miss the rest of the regular season and playoffs, league sources told ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 5, 2018
Irving will have surgery to remove two screws inserted into his patella after the 2015 NBA Finals and will miss four to five months recovering. Originally, the procedure was to be “minimally invasive”. Misdiagnosis, eh? Boy, doesn’t that sound familiar? (*hint-hint*; *wink-wink*)
What does this mean for our streaking Sixers -- winners of twelve straight going into tonight’s game against Cleveland? It’s quite simple, really. Getting the 3-seed in the Eastern Conference is an almost guaranteed spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The NBA Playoffs seedings break down as such: 1 vs. 8 and 4 vs. 5 on one side of the bracket; 2 vs. 7 and 3 vs. 6 on the other side. Look at the bottom half of the Eastern Conference standings. There isn’t a cupcake (depending on your feeling about the Bucks), but there isn’t really an “Oh my God, I fear this team more than death itself”, either.
For the sake of argument, let’s put the Sixers at the 3-seed with the Cavaliers at the 4-seed. (A lot can still happen with four games left. I know, but a breakdown of every possible scenario is more than my brain can handle.) Depending on how the last four games shake out, the Sixers first round match-up could be against either the Miami Heat, the Washington Wizards, or the Milwaukee Bucks.
“Playoff Dwyane Wade” isn’t as frightening to me as it would have been five years ago or so. Goran Dragic has a bum ankle and may not play tonight against the Knicks. Assuming Embiid only misses game one (and at most games 1 and 2) against the Heat, you can throw Richaun Holmes and Amir Johnson at Whiteside to at least slow him down until Joel returns. The Heat also just don’t score enough (23rd in the NBA in scoring). Cross off the Heat.
The Bucks would be an issue if anyone knew what their identity was -- which is the worst thing for a team in the playoffs. Are they a run-and-gun team? Are they a half court team due to the return of Jabari Parker two months ago? We know something they are: below average defensively (20th in DRtg and allow 106.7 ppg). The Sixers are top ten in PPG and top five in pace. Cross off the Bucks.
Of the three teams the Sixers would face in the first round were they to be the 3-seed, the Wizards probably give me the most pause to say, “Yeah. We got this series in the bag.” The Wizards are a veteran team with John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. (he’s good; stop it, ya’ll), and an improved Kelly Oubre. Their bench (Oubre, Satoransky, and Meeks) can get buckets, and the Wizards can throw three bodies at Embiid with Gortat, Morris, and Mahinmi.
The Wizards would be the first round match-up where I’d bite off the most fingernails while hate tweeting Andrew Sharp. A series against the Bucks or Heat might go five or six, but a series against the Wizards would likely go six or seven.
Once that hurdle has been cleared, the Sixers would play the heavily weakened 2-seed Celtics. Expect the unexpected when it comes to Brad Stevens. The Celtics are 2nd in the league in opponents’ PPG and first in DRtg. It’s likely Stevens and company will double down on defense versus asking Terry Rozier or Marcus Smart to mimic Kyrie. If the Celtics win a first round series, it’ll be because they hold teams to below 90 points.
Keep in mind that Boston could suffer a first round exit at the hands of one of the three teams I mentioned. If that’s the case, the same philosophies apply if they meet the Sixers in round two.
Things are starting to fall in to place for a DEEP Sixers playoff run. They’ve won 12 straight, play Cleveland tonight to take an edge of the 3-seed, and their path to a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals THIS YEAR is a tad easier.
Meet you in the Eastern Conference Finals?
Winner gets Lebron next season?