The Philadelphia 76ers find themselves back in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, but this year holds more expectations and promise than years past. The Sixers enter the playoffs as the number one seed in Doc Rivers’ first year as head coach. After two straight losses in the conference semifinals in 2018 and 2019, followed by a first-round exit in 2020, the Sixers look to capitalize as the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference. However, for them to be successful, these three things have to happen.
Joel Embiid has to play every game from here on out.
Embiid has taken his game to new heights this year; he averaged 28.5 points and 10.6 rebounds to become one of the favorites for league MVP. In any sport, once the playoffs come, your best players have to play their best and be the ones to lead the team to the promised land.
Embiid has the ability to carry the team on his back, but he can only do that if he is on the court. Embiid has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, and it has carried into the playoffs before. Fortunately, the Sixers have not been affected by Embiid missing time in those three games, but that is not something to expect if Embiid misses time again. This Sixers team goes as he goes, and they are going to need him for every game from here on out.
Ben Simmons will need to play aggressive
Every team’s defensive game plan will involve throwing as many double teams on Embiid as possible, so the Sixers will need a second scoring option, which has been Tobias Harris. But we know what Simmons is capable of when he is aggressive. Take his series against the Nets in 2019 as an example, where he averaged 17.2 points, including 31 points in game three.
As I said, the best players have to play their best in the playoffs, and Simmons has to play with the confidence that a three-time All-Star should play with. If he does, not only will it benefit his effect on the scoreboard, but it will also open up more opportunities for Embiid and the rest of the team.
The bench has to maintain the score through defense
The Sixers don’t feature any 20-point scorers off the bench, but they will need to find a way to maintain leads or close games when Embiid, Harris and Simmons are not on the floor. The Sixers’ identity has become defense since the arrival of Doc Rivers, and they need to stick to that identity, as they ranked six in opponents points allowed this past regular season. If the bench can defend their way to maintain the score while the starters rest, that will take a lot of pressure off the main scorers. It’s a recipe for disaster if the bench starts giving up leads or trailing by a significant margin, which will cause Embiid or Harris to work even harder to get the score back even.
As stated before, expectations are high this summer for the Sixers, who look to complete the process with an NBA Championship. They tip off their playoff journey on Sunday, May 23, against the number eight seed Washington Wizards, who beat the Indiana Pacers in the new play-in tournament on Thursday night.