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Sixers Shouldn’t just Expect to Flip Playoff Switch

Landing the plane is one thing, but landing the plane while playing chicken?

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers are a little over a week away from their second straight playoff appearance and unless something dreadful happens, they’ll have back-to-back 50-win seasons. To round out the campaign, they play the Chicago Bulls twice and the Miami Heat.

(I’m not guaranteeing a win, but it would give me great pause if they couldn’t get one win among those three.)

For the last month or so, head coach Brett Brown has repeated the phrase “land the plane” when it comes to the final month of the season. Get the team ready for the playoffs and what is hoped to be a long run into late April and beyond.

The Sixers haven’t exactly had the smoothest approach when it comes to landing said aircraft. They’re 5-5 in their last ten, and they’ve allowed 120+ points in five of their last seven games. You try to remain positive, but losing to the Atlanta Hawks twice in ten days doesn’t make you feel that great.

Before the Sixers 128-122 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks last night, Brown again reiterated his idea of “landing the plane”, but then the question was asked of whether the Sixers could “turn it on” or “flip the switch” come playoff time – because there haven’t been enough playoff clichés, I guess.

His answer was weird and made me do a double take. The Sixers haven’t been healthy, lately. Jimmy Butler didn’t play against Milwaukee last night. Joel Embiid missed time due to “load management”, and JJ Redick has missed some games as well.

Brown acknowledged those injuries, but then he did this strange parallel to last year’s Cleveland Cavaliers who performed experimental surgery trading Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics before the season started, then “Erector Set” a brand new roster before the trade deadline with the additions of Rodney Hood, George Hill, Larry Nance, Jr., Jordan Clarkson, a ham on rye, and a 32-ounce Code Red Mountain Dew.

(That ham on rye was instrumental in the Cavaliers playoff run. Ham on rye is solid, defensively.)

Two things about this parallel struck me as odd.

Sure, those Cavaliers did make it to the NBA Finals despite going only 16-10 after the All-Star Break. Those same Cavaliers almost got bounced by the Indiana Pacers in the first round, swept the Toronto Raptors (as LeBron routinely does), then almost got bounced by the Celtics before running out of gas and getting swept by the Golden State Warriors.

Let’s not forget the second little thing about this odd parallel. Those Cavaliers had LeBron James who is only the best player on planet Earth – and possibly the nine realms. In a game of one on one, I’m honestly not sure who my money is on: LeBron or Thor.

The Sixers are still young to this playoff thing, so asking them to “flip a switch” come playoff time could be a dangerous game to play. JJ Redick did mention something about this year’s playoff start compared to last year in the post-game last night.

Well, we didn’t have Joel healthy then [start of 2018 NBA Playoffs] either. So, I don’t know. You want your best player to be healthy and in a rhythm.

Redick also said that it would be great if all five starters were healthy and in rhythm before the playoffs, but with three games to go, he said it’s “probably not going to happen at this point”, realistically.

He’s right.

With three games to go, the Sixers don’t have a lot of time to get this figured out before the postseason starts.

Brown said last night that he’s not entirely sure who his team is given this group of starters has only played 10 out of 25 games together since the trades. There is SO MUCH potential, though, when they all do play together.

When Simmons, Redick, Butler, Tobias Harris, and Embiid are on the floor, the Sixers have a projected NET rating of +15.1 (120.7 ORtg/105.7 DRtg). The bench has been … about the same. Last night, Mike Scott had 22 points last night in 36 minutes as a starter, getting back on track shooting the ball after a shaky string of performances on the recent road trip. Scott has also become something of an “enforcer” when he’s on the floor.

Scott, himself, said it last night. He “ain’t no bitch”.

The rest of the bench is mostly usual suspects, but Zhaire Smith made his home debut last night hitting a three, getting to the line, and playing some effective point of attack defense.

There are just so many moving parts to this impending playoff run, and now the Sixers have lost James Ennis for a while after he re-injured his quad. That possibly means more minutes for Zhaire since Shake Milton is ineligible for playoff minutes. (There’s a reason why I didn’t mention Jonathan Simmons, by the way. I just don’t want him on the floor unless it’s in garbage time.)

You don’t have the wiggle room to absorb injuries to these guys. You need everybody firing and healthy to take a legitimate run at a deep playoff run. - Brett Brown

You’re right, Brett, but unfortunately, you have to play with the cards you’ve been dealt right now. That’s why thinking the Sixers can just flip an imaginary switch and everything clicks is a pretty scary game of chicken to be playing.

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