East wide open in 2020? James Ennis says 76ers will 'walk' to NBA Finals

East wide open in 2020? James Ennis says 76ers will 'walk' to NBA Finals

The Philadelphia 76ers should be the favorite to win the Eastern Conference and play in the 2020 NBA Finals, and one of their players is pretty confident that's going to happen.

Sixers guard James Ennis III, who recently re-signed with Philly, told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer that his team will "walk" to the NBA Finals next season.

That's a bold statement from Ennis.

The 76ers figure to be a tough out next season after re-signing Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, Ennis and acquiring Al Horford from the rival Boston Celtics in free agency. And let's not forget the 76ers' two-best players, center Joel Embiid and point guard Ben Simmons, should also continue to improve next season and beyond.

The East, as Ennis notes, really is wide open, however.

The Milwaukee Bucks, led by reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, will be a force again. The Bucks lost Malcolm Brogdon via trade this summer, but they are expected to return much of the same team that finished with the East's best record during the 2019-20 regular season. The Boston Celtics also will be a tough out, and no team understands that better than Philly. The C's lost Horford and Kyrie Irving in free agency, but they signed Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter, and also should see improvement from young wings Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. The Indiana Pacers made a few shrewd offseason moves, too, and likely will again be a top-four team in the conference.

There are question marks surrounding the 76ers themselves. Embiid hasn't been able to stay healthy and/or in shape for a lengthy playoff run. Simmons still can't shoot from the outside and Horford is 33 years old and has battled through injuries the last two seasons. Philly's bench still doesn't have enough talent or depth, and the roster as a whole needs more 3-point shooting.

Being the favorite on paper also doesn't mean much. Many fans and experts believed the Celtics would march to the NBA Finals last season with LeBron James out of the conference. Boston instead fought through a massively disappointing season and exited in the conference semifinals. 

Ennis and the 76ers have a long way to go before they reach the conference finals for the first time since 2001, but in fairness, they do have plenty of reasons to be confident in their chances next season.

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Celtics vs. Wizards Instant Overreactions: Isaiah Thomas showing flashes of C's days

Celtics vs. Wizards Instant Overreactions: Isaiah Thomas showing flashes of C's days

The Boston Celtics spoiled Isaiah Thomas' return to TD Garden by taking down the Wizards 140-133 on Wednesday night, but it wasn't all bad news for I.T.

Here are three instant overreactions from the win, which marked the C's ninth straight victory and improved their record to 9-1:

1. Isaiah Thomas is finally showing flashes of his Celtic days.

Verdict: Not an overreaction

Thomas overcame plenty of adversity on his road to regaining his role as an NBA starter. So far, things are trending in the right direction for the ex-Celtics guard with the Wizards.

I.T., at the arena he used to call home, had a solid night vs. his former team with 18 points and seven assists. He went 7-for-14 from the field (3-for-6 from 3-pt). Not quite the monster numbers he put up during his Boston tenure, but those performances could come with time.

Thomas entered Wednesday night averaging 13.2 points per game on the season.

2. Marcus Smart has turned into a legit 3-point threat.

Verdict: Not an overreaction

On Tuesday we broke down why Smart's newfound 3-point prowess isn't just a flash in the pan, and his performance Wednesday backed it up.

Smart dropped 17 points (6-of-12 from the field) while going 4-of-8 from behind the arc. Through the first 10 games of the season, he's been shooting with confidence and that'll only continue as long as he sees this kind of success. And when his shots aren't falling, he makes up for it by making plays like this one:

The longest-tenured Celtic is now shooting 39 percent from 3-point range on the year and recently passed Isaiah Thomas for sixth on the C's all-time 3-point list.

3. The Celtics have a turnover problem.

Verdict: Overreaction

The C's had some trouble with turnovers throughout the win, but don't be alarmed. They entered Wednesday night on pace to have one of the best turnover rates in league history, as NBC Sports Boston's own Chris Forsberg noted in his latest mailbag.

While Boston's 11 turnovers vs. the Wizards certainly hurt, you shouldn't expect it to become a trend.

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Warriors, which tips off Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

Isaiah Thomas highlights: I.T.'s best plays vs. Celtics in Boston return

Isaiah Thomas highlights: I.T.'s best plays vs. Celtics in Boston return

Isaiah Thomas officially went 908 days between buckets at TD Garden.

And while he didn't come through on his pregame promise of 50 points, he certainly made up for lost time Wednesday night.

The Wizards guard scored 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting in Washington's 140-133 loss to the Boston Celtics, going 3-for-6 from 3-point range while adding a team-high seven assists.

The game marked Thomas' second in Boston as an active player since the Celtics traded him in the 2017 offseason, but the point guard went scoreless in six minutes for the Denver Nuggets when they came to town last spring.

Thomas needed all of 28 seconds to change that Wednesday, drilling a pull-up jumper on the Wizards' opening possession:

Celtics fans also may remember this vintage pull-up 3-pointer from IT's Boston days:

Thomas had some fun at his former teammates' expense, too; after hitting a 3-pointer over Marcus Smart late in the second quarter, the 30-year-old gave Smart a nice smack on the rear.

Thomas then splashed another deep ball out of the gate in the second half and appeared to have some words for the Celtics' bench:

Oh, and he can still get to the rack:

The Celtics didn't take Thomas' attack lying down, though. Jaylen Brown -- who took some heat from I.T. earlier this week over his new haircut -- was one of several C's to take advantage of the 5-foot-9 guard's limitations on defense.

Thomas finished as Washington's third-leading scorer and is enjoying a fine season for the Wizards, but his former team made sure he didn't leave the Garden happy Wednesday.

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Warriors, which tips off Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.