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NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: Sixers rise after Tobias Harris trade

NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: Sixers rise after Tobias Harris trade

It’s time for a post-trade deadline Eastern Conference power rankings. Let’s get right into it: 

1. Bucks (41-13) Last week: 1 
The Bucks still have the best record in the East and made a big move before the deadline, adding Nikola Mirotic. They’re at the top until results suggest otherwise.

2. Sixers (35-20) Last week: 4
We got a glimpse last night of how “scary” good this new Sixers team can be. Tobias Harris is the rare 20-point scorer who doesn’t need to see a ton of the ball to thrive, and all five players the Sixers added are average or better defenders. It might take time for all the pieces to work in perfect harmony, but the Sixers have a big, versatile team that can adapt to just about any opponent.

3. Raptors (40-16) Last week: 2 
There’s a very strong case for having the Raptors at No. 2. Perhaps the best reason to do so would be that Toronto still matches up well against the Sixers. Their pre-deadline win Tuesday in Philadelphia, despite 37 points from Joel Embiid, was convincing. Yet the Sixers improved more through their trades than the Raptors did through their acquistion of Marc Gasol. Though Gasol is a quality addition, Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright and C.J. Miles is not an insignificant trio to give up.

4. Celtics (35-20) Last week: 4 
Anthony Davis isn’t a Laker, which is good news for the Celtics. But Boston didn’t do anything to upgrade their roster for this season at the deadline. The prospect of facing Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum and company in the playoffs is still daunting, though. Marcus Smart having by far the best three-point shooting season of his career (37.1 percent) helps make up for Gordon Hayward’s struggles.

5. Nets (29-28) Last week: 5
It’ll be fascinating to watch how the Nets re-integrate Caris LeVert, who is somehow already back on the court after dislocating his foot in November. Though his first game back didn’t go very well, a 19-point loss to the Bulls on Friday, Brooklyn doesn’t look like an opponent you’d want to draw in the first round of the playoffs.

6. Pacers (36-19) Last week: 8
Wesley Matthews is a nice pickup for the Pacers, who have won four straight. But they’re still not going to win the East without Victor Oladipo. 

7. Hornets (26-28) Last week: 7
Charlotte didn’t get any help for Kemba Walker before the deadline, which general manager Mitch Kupchak understandably found disappointing

8. Heat (25-28) Last week: 8 
The newest member of the Heat, Ryan Anderson, is probably not going to be the difference in a seven-game series against one of the elite teams in the East. 

9. Wizards (23-32) Last week: 10
Welcome to Washington, Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker and Wesley Johnson. Goodbye, Markieff Morris and Otto Porter Jr. The Wizards are free from Porter’s massive contract, which is nice for them, but the long-term future of the Wizards isn’t looking too great after John Wall ruptured his Achilles tendon. 

10. Pistons (25-29) Last week: 9 
The Pistons added Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Thon Maker, giving up Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson. Detroit is also reportedly going to sign Wayne Ellington and waive Henry Ellenson. All reasonable moves with the future in mind, but certainly not trades that put the Pistons anywhere close to contention conversation. 

11. Magic (21-31) Last week: 11 
The Markelle Fultz era begins in Orlando.

12. Hawks (18-36) Last week: 12 
Atlanta remains the “best” of the bottom four teams. That could change if Dewayne Dedmon, Jeremy Lin or Vince Carter are bought out. 

13. Bulls (13-42) Last week: 13 
Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Porter Jr. combined for 75 points in Friday’s win over Brooklyn. When you add the injured Wendell Carter Jr. to that group, Chicago might have an interesting young core to build around. 

14. Cavs (11-44) Last week: 14
It’s not official yet, but it doesn’t look like Cleveland is going to repeat as Eastern Conference champions. 

15. Knicks (10-44) Last week: 15 
The Knicks better nail it this summer. 

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If they face Celtics again in playoffs, how can Sixers beat Boston?

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USA Today Images

If they face Celtics again in playoffs, how can Sixers beat Boston?

The Sixers have 24 games left, and each one of them matters with playoff seeding at stake. But their March 20 matchup vs. the Celtics might matter a little more than the others as the Sixers will aim to avoid a season sweep against Boston.

Today, NBC Sports Philadelphia's Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick discuss how the Sixers can beat the Celtics if the two teams meet again in the playoffs.

Monday, they looked at who should be part of the Sixers' playoff rotation (see story).

Wednesday, they'll review their expectations for the rest of the season.

Hudrick 

While the new-look Sixers will likely be a better team the next time they see the Celtics, there’s plenty to take from the previous matchups.

Some teams are a tough matchup for Joel Embiid and others for Ben Simmons. Boston is the rare team that gives both All-Stars problems. Al Horford is the rarest of players that can guard both. 

Most NBA fives are susceptible to Embiid’s pump fakes or they can’t keep up with his footwork, often leading to fouls. That’s not the case with Horford, who has the discipline, strength and quickness to hang with Embiid. It’s a matter of Embiid making better and quicker decisions — especially against double teams.

With Simmons, it’s just about valuing the basketball and picking his spots to be aggressive. Boston is excellent at getting back in transition, where Simmons normally excels. Simmons is often better when he’s attacking, but against the Celtics he may be better off letting the game come to him, like he did last Tuesday.

The other thought, knowing how much Embiid and Simmons have struggled vs. Boston, is to run the offense more around Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. 

Butler was the best player on the floor against the Celtics last week. We’ve briefly seen the Butler experiment at point guard. I’d be interested in seeing it more against Boston. It could allow Butler to be in control of the offense and allow Simmons to play a traditional four spot.

Harris struggled in the loss last week, but had good looks. He’s been with the team for less than two weeks, so Brown and his teammates are still figuring Harris out and how he fits in the offense. They have 24 games to find the best way to get Harris more involved. Doing so could come in handy if they face the Celtics again in the playoffs.

Levick 

I think there are three keys to the Sixers beating the Celtics: 

1. Make Joel Embiid’s life easier
We know Al Horford defends Embiid very well. Embiid just can’t draw fouls or score inside with ease against Horford the same way he does against other big men. That’s fine.

The Sixers can help Embiid by spacing the floor properly when he gets the ball, making the occasional, smart split cut off him, and recognizing that he’s not always going to be their best offensive option. Sometimes Tobias Harris or Jimmy Butler are going to be the right player to turn to down the stretch.

2. Play to Ben Simmons’ strengths
The current reality is Simmons, without a reliable jump shot, likely won’t be as effective offensively vs. the Celtics as he is against others teams. Boston does a great job neutralizing the athletic advantage Simmons usually possesses. Again, that doesn’t have to kill the Sixers.

I’ve mentioned it a bunch in the past, but it bears repeating — Simmons has gone from a poor post player (21 for 70, or 30 percent last season) to one of the better post-up players in the NBA this season (50 for 99, or 50.5 percent).

It would make sense for the Sixers to use Simmons more at the power forward spot than normal vs. Boston in lineups with Jimmy Butler or T.J. McConnell at the point. 

3. Prioritize defense
As we saw last season, Boston is masterful at exposing defensive liabilities. Players like Furkan Korkmaz can’t see the floor against the Celtics. JJ Redick’s minutes might need to go down. McConnell, though he’s been very good recently against the Celtics, will probably only be playable if he’s asked to defend smaller guards like Terry Rozier. 

In all likelihood, Brett Brown will need to ride his best defensive players — Butler, Embiid, Simmons and Harris. The Sixers have the talent to beat Boston, but Brown has a challenging task navigating the matchup troubles which the Celtics present. 

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Sixers' new starting five is on Sports Illustrated cover

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@SINow

Sixers' new starting five is on Sports Illustrated cover

If you're a Sixers fan, you better hope the Sports Illustrated cover jinx is not a real thing.

The Sixers' new, formidable starting five is on this week's cover of SI, posing around the words "Process This." You'd imagine Sam Hinkie is reading with pride. 

Interesting to note how all five guys have a hint of a smile besides Joel Embiid. His competitive side sometimes gets overshadowed, but Embiid definitely looks like he means business on the cover with that cold stare into the camera.

Tobias Harris wishes his teammates had gone all-in on the smile.

In the issue, The Crossover staff at SI re-previews the highly competitive Eastern Conference, taking stock of where the Sixers, Celtics, Bucks and Raptors stand after an eventful trade deadline.

So did Philly just build the most talented team in the East — or a very expensive runner-up? Whatever the answer, the experiment seems an appropriate extension of the Process," Andrew Sharp writes. "You don’t have to love every move, but you can’t help but admire the ambition.

Fair enough. 

Eleven years ago, Elton Brand was on the cover.

The question then was, "How far can Elton Brand take the Sixers?" It's still a relevant question, although at this point, the Sixers' fate falls largely on the team Brand has helped assemble. But there's no doubt Brand is again a big part of the Sixers' return to the national spotlight.

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