**DISCLAIMER: I’M WELL AWARE THIS IS VERY MUCH CARTING BEFORE THE HORSE, AND THIS COLUMN WILL SERVE AS EXHIBIT A OF WHAT CAUSED AN INEVITABLE JINX. I’LL TAKE FULL RESPONSIBILITY FOR THAT AND ACCEPT EVERY NONSENSICAL TWEET THAT I WOULD RECEIVE.**
The Sixers would open their playoff run against either the Washington Wizards or the Indiana Pacers. After that, they’d get the New York Knicks or Atlanta Hawks before a showdown with either the Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets or *gulp* Miami Heat.
There are plenty of fun matchups and storylines in any playoff matchup in the East, but what about the West? If the Sixers did make it to the NBA Finals, which matchups would make for the most fun.
Donovan Mitchell’s absence due to injury costs us one of our favorite storylines — the continued dislike and utter contempt by Sixers fans of his very existence. Mitchell has drawn the ire of the fan base since his failed Rookie of the Year campaign. Ben Simmons won the award, but the campaign definitely rubbed folks the wrong way.
We hold grudges now. That’s part of our thing.
Imagine if by some cosmic flaw of the universe that Rudy Gobert wins Defensive Player of the Year over Simmons. For four games at the Wells Fargo Center, Gobert is going to get all the smoke he can handle. All of the “fraud” chants. All of the “COVID”-related jokes. It’s going to be beyond anything anyone has ever seen in the history of basketball.
Personal grudges aside, a Sixers/Jazz NBA Finals would be a clash of both 1-seeds in their respective conferences. This hasn’t happened since the 2016 NBA Playoffs when the Cleveland Cavaliers took down the 70-win Golden State Warriors team in seven games, leading to the Warriors signing Kevin Durant the following offseason.
The big matchup, of course, would be Gobert versus Joel Embiid.
In six regular season games, Embiid has torched the Frenchman. He averages 23.8 points and 12.8 rebounds per game. The last time the two faced off, Embiid was masterful with 40 points in 40 minutes on 27 field goal attempts.
Seeing these two go at it for however many games would be fun, but outside of that matchup, the Sixers have a better overall team because of the lack of Donovan Mitchell.
This would be my preferred choice for a few reasons.
Chris Paul would be making his very first NBA Finals appearance after getting so close with the Houston Rockets. (Seriously, if Paul doesn’t go down with that hamstring injury, those Rockets probably beat that Warriors team.) I just love Chris Paul and would like to see him compete for a ring.
It’s Monty Williams going up against all of his former players. Williams was an assistant coach for the Sixers in the 2018-19 season (the one that ended with the most ludicrous bounce in the history of sports). He was hired by the Suns the very next year, and the team saw an improvement. Then, the Suns gifted him Paul, and they’ve been humming ever since.
There’s the story of Mikal Bridges — the Villanova product that was sent to the Suns on draft night.
Lastly, “The Homie” returns to the Wells Fargo Arena, but as the opposition. Still fun, albeit heart-tugging.
The best stories involving the Sixers come from the matchups.
Ben Simmons vs. Chris Paul – “The Point God” versus some mutant version of Paul and Magic Johnson. There’s just so much great point guard play afoot here. It’ll be such a clinic and good ol’ fun to watch.
Devin Booker vs. Sixers defenders – Booker torches just about everyone in the NBA, and the Sixers are no different. In 12 career games, Booker averages 28.8 points per game shooting 45.9 percent from 3. That’s an absurd stat line. Between Simmons and Matisse Thybulle coming into their own defensively on top of veteran Danny Green, Booker would have a tougher time against the Sixers than in years prior.
Joel Embiid vs. DeAndre Ayton – Honestly, this matchup is fun simply to watch Embiid thrust Ayton into another plane of existence. It’s somewhat spiteful, but in many ways, the kid deserves it at this point.
Let’s. Effing. Go!
This series has the second-best storyline possible: #1 versus #2 in NBA MVP voting.
In some order, that’s Embiid and Nikola Jokić. Paul has had a fun season. Steph Curry has been ridiculous in what he’s done, but the two big men are 1-2. I can’t remember an MVP race in my basketball self-consciousness where the top two vote-getters were big men. (It may have been one year where it was Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan, but I’ll have to check the tapes on that.)
I don’t care if Denver is considered “small market”.
I don’t care if there isn’t a Los Angeles team in the Finals.
I don’t care if there’s no LeBron James or Anthony Davis or Kawhi Leonard (more on him in a second) or Paul George or Chris Paul, etc., etc.
The NBA Finals featuring Embiid and Jokić would be incredibly fun to watch — the return of the big man (or kinda/sorta big man). Jokić isn’t a traditional “pound you in the paint” big man, and Embiid is as fluid as anyone we’ve seen since Hakeem Olajuwon.
Embiid vs. Jokić is the meat of this platter, but there are plenty of potatoes. The Sixers will have to contend with the rise of Michael Porter, Jr. (who is on my list for “Most Improved Player”). Porter spent his rookie season like nearly every Sixers rookie: on the bench due to injury.
Last season, he had a marginal role with the Nuggets carving out about 16 minutes a game. This season has been his coming-out party, as his minutes have doubled, his scoring has ballooned to 19.0 points per game, and he has shot 45 percent from 3 on just over six attempts per game. I always thought the Durant comparisons were a little bit too much. They’re still a little too much, but I can at least SEE the resemblance a little.
Then, there’s our old friend Aaron Gordon who was traded to the Nuggets at the trade deadline. When Jamal Murray suffered a season-ending injury, Gordon was part of the reason why I hadn’t written Denver off completely. He’s not the passer that Murray is, but when Jokić is the one doing most of the assisting, anyway (40% AST%), what you need are scorers for Jokić to feed the ball to. Gordon isn’t as multi-dimensional as Porter, Jr., of course, but he still can be a bit of a problem.
Let me just start out by saying this about the Lakers. If they somehow make it to the NBA Finals, my first personal storyline will be how the (censored for family reading) they got there in the first place.
They got through Golden State to win the 7-seed, then went through the Suns in round one, then the Nuggets/Trail Blazers winner in round two, and then the Jazz/Clippers in the Western Conference Finals.
If that Lakers team shows up, I think I’m officially crapping my pants, because that’s a lot of momentum for a team with Anthony Davis, and, oh, by the way, LeBron freakin’ James. I’d be terrified if this Lakers team did all that and were waiting for us in the NBA Finals.
It would also mark the fifth time there would be a Lakers/Sixers NBA Finals. As it stands, the Sixers are 1-4 in those series, with the only victory being the ’83 Sixers team that went fo-fo-fo.
Where do I begin? Do I start with the Anthony Davis vs. Joel Embiid matchup — a matchup featuring a different pair of the league’s top big men? In four career matchups, the numbers are relatively similar:
Embiid has won four out of five matchups against Davis, but to be fair, Davis didn’t ever have a running buddy like LeBron. Having him on the floor kinda changes things as far as not having to be “the guy” he had to be for the New Orleans Pelicans.
Then, of course, there’s probably the premier matchup: The King vs. The Prince. LeBron James vs. Ben Simmons. When Simmons was drafted, there were so many LeBron comparisons that it bordered on lunacy. After all these years in the league at the same time, Simmons still isn’t the shooter LeBron is, but LeBron isn’t (nor has he ever been, really) the defender that Simmons is.
Would a LeBron vs. Simmons series be a “passing of the torch”? Ehh. Let’s slow down on that. As good as Simmons is, he’ll never be considered the best player in the world as LeBron has for most of his career. It’d be fun to see the prince knock the king off his throne in some basketball version of “Game of Thrones”, however.
Ok. Let’s just get it out of the way.
This series has the best storyline. The Philadelphia 76ers getting another shot at Kawhi Leonard — the man who ripped the collective heart out of Sixers fans Kano-style two years ago. Getting revenge against him would be so sweet and so fulfilling. The quadruple bounce haunts this fanbase like the double-doink haunts Chicago Bears fans. (Listen, ya’ll. We can’t have ALL the good bounces, okay? That shot going in was karma smacking all of us right in the face while holding baby powder.)
As sweet as playing and beating the Clippers would be from the standpoint of just Sixers fans would be, such a victory would be just as sweet for head coach Doc Rivers. Last season, Rivers coached the first year of the Kawhi Leonard/Paul George experiment. When the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets, Rivers was the fall guy. (That happened despite the complete disappearance of George the rest of that series.)
Doc joined the Sixers this season, and the rest is kismet … on this side of the country, anyway.
Where every other series would have some kind of battle of the bigs, this is the only series where that wouldn’t be the case. The Clippers simply don’t have ANYONE that is on Embiid’s level either offensively or defensively. They can theoretically put Serge Ibaka or Ivica Zubac on him, but yeah, that won’t end well.
This series would be all about the wings.
Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, and Matisse Thybulle versus Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Assuming George doesn’t pull yet another playoff disappearing act, he’s going to have to be accounted for. (If the Clippers make it to the NBA Finals, it’d be because either Leonard went full Super Saiyan or because he finally gets help from PG.)
The Sixers wouldn’t completely neutralize Leonard. What team really could? They would have the best collection of players to make it extremely hard for him. Length and size with Simmons. Size and strength with Harris, and plain ol’ tenacity and active hands with Thybulle.
Seeing the Clippers in the NBA Finals this season would go a long way in exorcising every demon we’ve held as a fanbase for two years, but at the same time … I don’t want to see Kawhi again. Do you? Okay, sure.
Which Sixers Opponent in a potential NBA Finals match would be the most fun?
This poll is closed
Los Angeles Clippers
Los Angeles Lakers