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Series Two. Game One. Atlanta Hawks visit the Sixers

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Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Round one is in the books. The Sixers are officially 12 wins away from holding that championship trophy. Today the 5th seeded Atlanta Hawks take on the regular season’s top dawgs of the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers. After taking care of business in game five against the Washington Wizards without the services of their MVP candidate Joel Embiid, the team now prepares for “Operation: slow down Trae Young.”

It’s a task the New York Knicks were simply unable to perform. Young sent them fishin’ by terrorizing their interior. He kept getting into the paint and the Knicks, normally a terrific defensive team had no answers for him; on the other end of the floor, the Knicks had a ton of trouble getting buckets. Hawks’ center Clint Capela helps erase not only his own teammate's defensive mistakes but also weak-sauce takes at the rim by opponents.

On the other end, Capela and Young exhibit ESP during pick-n-rolls, often resulting in lob dunks...for Clint, not Trae in case you were wondering.

Young clearly reveled in the villainy at Madison Square Garden so the Sixers will need to do everything they can to not let there be any Dirty Bird takeovers at Wells Fargo Center later.

The injury report for Philly only includes Embiid, who was diagnosed with a lateral tear of his right knee’s meniscus last week. That’s pretty much the biggest story heading into this game. We don’t currently even know if the only MVP candidate on either team will play, although the surprisingly good news is that Joel will at least warm up to test it out.

Embiid suffered the injury after a hard fall on Memorial day.

Per Charania, on Saturday:

If this were a regular-season game the Sixers could win without Embiid, they almost certainly would not play him. If this were a big regular-season game, perhaps on national TV against a top opponent, him garnering the “questionable” tag would leave little doubt in your mind he’d be out there by tipoff.

But the nature of this injury, this being a tear in his knee, makes things a bit murkier to forecast. Will he play? If so what might he look like out there?

Joel has yet to take part in live-action during practices, so it certainly would not be a surprise if he isn’t quite ready for playoff action. But that he’s even going to give it a shot could mean the Sixers will have a better than even shot to win the game.

If he can’t go, Doc Rivers will likely counter with some small-ball lineups including one of Thybulle, Tyrese Maxey, or Furkan along with the other four starters like he did against the Wiz. He’ll also utilize a healthy diet of lineups featuring George Hill at combo guard and Dwight Howard at the five.

The Sixers had a ton of success in the second half against Washington by simply giving it to Simmons and letting him create for everyone else; I imagine they’ll try that again too.

As for Atlanta, the local product De’Andre Hunter is questionable with right knee soreness. Hunter has been managing that issue for some time now. Guard Kris Dunn is listed as “out” with non-COVID illness. Cam Reddish (right Achilles soreness) is out, and Brandon Goodwin (respiratory) is out.

The key as mentioned will be slowing down Young. If Embiid is unable to suit up, that task becomes much more difficult. Even though the Sixers will have a couple of terrific options defensively to call upon, (Ben Simmons is a Defensive Player of the Year finalist and Matisse Thybulle is headed for an All-Defensive team himself) without the help of their rim protector extraordinaire things will be challenging.

But these guys were special against the Wizards, so if it comes to that, perhaps they can get it done again.

On the other end, the team is going to need to make Young work much harder than he had to last series. Against New York, Atlanta was successful in “hiding” Young on spot-up shooters like Reggie Bullock, who stationed many a possession in a corner. If we expect Young to open the game on a spot-up shooter (like Danny Green) or Matisse Thybulle, Philadelphia will want to make sure that player is extremely active, running around off screens to sap Trae’s energy, as well as setting plenty of screens in order to create some mismatches.

Scheming ways to force Young to try to stop Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons would be advantage Sixers.

How the Hawks plan to defend the Sixers is intriguing too.

If you want some specifics, we got ya covered:

The winner of this best of seven game series advances to the Eastern Conference Finals. If the Sixers advance they’ll await the winner of the Nets-Bucks series. James Harden left the game yesterday after just 43 seconds. You just wish him all the best, but you also realize, in a season with so many injuries, it really could be the last team standing to hold that trophy. This is shaping up to be a monster opening game of the second round with big implications for both teams.

Game Info

Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Atlanta Hawks

When: 1:00 pm ET

Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA

Watch: ABC

Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic

Follow: @Liberty_Ballers