There’s a wide swath of NBA folks who believe the Philadelphia 76ers will benefit from the long layoff now that the season is tentatively scheduled to resume play July 31.
And that the Boston Celtics, a team they beat in three of their four matchups this season, may be an ideal first-round foe — which is how things would play out if the NBA went straight to the playoffs now.
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But there’s at least one longtime scribe who isn’t convinced the rest will be what the Sixers need to jumpstart their quest towards a deep playoff run.
“Typically, when the 76ers had a break or when Joel Embiid took an extended period of time off, he always came back out of shape,” Sixers beat writer Keith Pompey said on the Celtics Talk Podcast.
But according to Pompey, Embiid may be finally ready to change that narrative.
Pompey says he has heard that Embiid, arguably the most talented center in the NBA, has been working out six days a week during this quarantine period.
Having been around Embiid and the Sixers organization for years, Pompey knows how important this franchise’s success going forward is contingent on Embiid elevating his play and leading Philadelphia on the kind of postseason run that many felt they would be in the mix for when they acquired former Celtic Al Horford prior to the start of the season.
But when the season was suspended on March 12, the Sixers (39-26) only had the sixth-best record in the East.
If the season ended now, the 76ers would open up against the Celtics.
Having beaten Boston three of their four meetings this season, it would make sense for the Sixers to want to see the Celtics in the first round. That success — combined with a healthy Embiid and Ben Simmons — would certainly provide a challenge for the Celtics.
If Embiid comes into the resumed season in good health and the back issues that kept Simmons sidelined are no longer problematic, Pompey believes Philadelphia has the pieces that could advance past the Celtics.
But regardless of who the Sixers put on the floor, Pompey believes the Celtics won’t go away quietly.
“Since I’ve been covering this league, the Celtics team that I see in the beginning of the season is different than the team I see in the middle of the season, and is different from the team I see in the playoffs,” Pompey said. “I think the Sixers want to see them, but you have to be careful what you ask for."
Pompey added, “If Joel Embiid comes out dominant and takes over the game, I think they’ll beat the Celtics. But it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be tough. It’s just that … that coach (Brad Stevens) is a good coach and the Celtics improve (as the season goes on).”