Eastman: Are the Sixers for real?

76ers playoff graphic. - Multimedia Editor / Drew Peltzman

A couple of months ago, I had planned on writing a column about how this year’s Sixers team was different from years past. That column was scrapped as just a day later, Joel Embiid tore his meniscus. 

The timing of the injury was classic Sixers. Just when you get your hopes up about them, they always find a way to disappoint in grand fashion. At that point, I decided I was done emotionally investing in this team. This was the final straw of a long list of reasons for why I should’ve never had hope to begin with.

But here we are, just when all hope seemed to be lost the Sixers ripped off eight straight wins, buoyed by the return of Embiid. They weren’t able to avoid the play-in tournament, but after beating Miami they have positioned themselves in a good spot to make serious noise in the playoffs.

This isn’t the Sixers best chance ever to make the elusive Eastern Conference finals, but there’s definitely a path. 

First up is the New York Knicks, who are a scrappy, defensive-minded team. The Knicks will be a very tough out, but not an insurmountable task. Philly has the best player in the series in Embiid, who will demand the attention of New York defensively. 

The attention will open things up for the likes of Tyrese Maxey and Kelly Oubre Jr., while the Knicks don’t have a strong second option outside of Jalen Brunson on offense. It won’t be easy, but the Sixers are the more talented team and should be able to pull out a series victory over them.

The other benefit of being the seventh seed is that they avoid Boston until at least the conference finals. Boston is far away the best team in the conference and has owned the Sixers in previous playoff matchups, so needless to say it’s best to avoid them for as long as possible. 

If Philly were to advance to the second round, they would instead face the winner of Milwaukee and Indiana. Either of those teams would be a tough challenge but like the Knicks, not impossible. 

Milwaukee has star power but the talent hasn’t translated into the expected success that was expected after trading for Damian Lillard. With Doc Rivers and his history of playoff failures taking over midseason, Milwaukee isn’t the powerhouse we originally thought. 

Indiana is led by young star Tyrese Haliburton but is largely unproven and untested in the playoffs. It isn’t out of the question for the Sixers to continue playing their best basketball and advance to the conference finals.

I’ve seen many past Sixers teams with plenty of talent fall short, but I can’t help but think this team is different. Nick Nurse has won a championship and is known for getting the most out of his teams. This Sixers team also has the most depth of any team in the Embiid era. Embiid himself is playing the best basketball of his career. He should be entering this playoffs mostly healthy and ready to go. 

I’m ready to be let down again. I genuinely believe this team is different. They’ve got the veteran head coach, the stars, and the depth pieces. The only thing left to do now is perform.

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