Cassidy Hubbarth of ESPN was kind enough to join me following yesterday afternoon’s Sixers practice to talk Philly vs. Brooklyn in the opening round of the 2019 NBA playoffs.
Kevin F. Love: You attended the Sixers’ practice today. What’s your read on the Embiid situation?
Cassidy Hubbarth: Joel had a limited participation practice today. And he basically was saying that doesn’t know if he’s going to go. You can read into that maybe as some gamesmanship, but there is a real concern because he’s been in and out of the lineup since the All-Star break and you have to consider his history of injuries. When asked if he has pain, he acknowledged that there’s some and that’s going to determine if he’s ready to go or not. So that is obviously the cloud around this team right now because he is the best player and he’s shown in the regular season that he just dominates the Nets — the numbers going up against them have been cartoonish in a way. I think he’s put up 30 and 14, five assists. He gets the free throw line a lot against this team. So that is the big story line.
Brett Brown didn’t really want to take any questions about the injury. He was asked whether he is frustrated with the fact that he’s dealing with this for the second straight year with his best player. Brett said, “Well no, I’m not because I have the best team I’ve ever had heading into the playoffs. Obviously there’s the initial frustrations of him not being at full strength, but I’m just excited to attack these playoffs and make a deep playoff run with this roster.”
Editor’s Note: Since this interview, Joel Embiid was listed as doubtful for game one.
KFL: You mentioned Embiid’s situation was clouding the atmosphere at practice, but aside from that, what was the vibe around the team? Are they focused and prepared or are they laid-back, treating the series like a walk in the park?
CH: Absolutely not — they’re definitely not looking at it as a walk in the park. But my take on it is that I don’t think it has a lot to do with the Nets. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that they wish they had a little bit more time to jell with each other. And that was kind of the vibe that I was getting as all five starters spoke today. The sentiment was ‘we are jelling, we all have the same focus, but we still need to work on learning each other’s tendencies.’ They need to figure out what their communication is going to be like on this level. In the playoffs, it’s a whole new level.
Jimmy Butler was very interesting. He has the most playoff experience on this team. There’s a lot to break down on what’s going on with him, his ups and downs in the season, his happiness and whatnot. But he made it a point to say, “I’m happy. I’m happy here because we’re all focused on these playoffs.” Jimmy’s a harsh critic but it all seems positive with him.
Everyone’s pointing out the fact that they’re still kind of learning about each other and it makes sense. Big personalities, big talent who are still trying to figure out how to find each of their roles.
KFL: Speaking of Jimmy Butler, there’s been a sense around Philadelphia that maybe we haven’t yet seen the best he has to offer — that he’s been saving himself for the playoffs. Do you get that sense?
CH: I spoke with Jimmy and I asked him, “Do you have a playoff switch?”
He said, “Yes, I would say that I do. I’m for this stage — I did this to myself.”
What he meant is that he’s made himself a clutch player and there’s no more clutch time than the playoffs.
I also asked him how much he’s thought about this summer and he said he hasn’t. I asked if he was serious, and he responded, “I know the money’s going to be there. I just want to be a part of a competitive, winning team.” He’s happy with the way the guys are thinking, how they’re coming together and the talent on this team.
KFL: As you prepare to cover game one, what makes this series compelling? What story lines are you watching for?
- The interesting dynamics of how these two teams have gotten to here. Obviously the Sixers represent the whole tanking process, whereas the Nets haven’t had a chance to actually tank because they haven’t had draft picks to develop players. So it’s kind of two worlds colliding that came from the bottom. It’s also an interesting dynamic of a team filled with superstars in Philly, with Brooklyn being more of a team of average Joes who are over-performing and jelling well together.
- There’s a lot of contracting styles with these two teams. The Nets like to play zone at times. How is that going to effect Ben Simmons?
- I think we’re going to see what this Sixers team is made up of early on, which could be a good thing because they need to learn fast.
- The biggest story line is going to be about Embiid and his health, because when it really comes down to it, he exploits the Nets. As good as Jarrett Allen has been, he’s just not a match yet for Joel Embiid.
KFL: We know Spencer Dindwiddie and D’Angelo Russell can go off against the Sixers. Is there a player on the Nets who is flying under the radar?
CH: Joe Harris. I mean the guy’s hitting 47% from three. Harris is someone that they’re going to have to really keep an eye on. The Sixers kind of pride themselves on defending the three, but Harris is going to be someone that is going to make noise for the Nets. Caris LeVert has been great on the attack. What makes the Nets dangerous is that they have so many options on the attack and they’re a high volume pick-and-roll team that likes the spread out but also can get inside.
KFL: How do you anticipate this series playing out?
CH: I think the talent gap should be enough to make this a fast series, but I think each game is going to be really competitive. I don’t really love picking games, but I would say it’s not going to be a sweep, let’s put it that way.
I’d like to give a huge thank you to Cassidy for taking the time to speak with me, especially with having to prepare for a playoff series in less than 24 hours.
Cassidy Hubbarth covers the NBA for ESPN and Hoopstreams on Twitter. She can also be heard on the Hoop Collective podcast. Give her a follow @CassidyHubbarth.