76ers

Predictions for Game 1 of Sixers vs. Nets playoff series

Predictions for Game 1 of Sixers vs. Nets playoff series

Can the Sixers, 31-10 this season at Wells Fargo Center, open their first-round series vs. the Nets with a home win? Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick give their predictions for Game 1 (2:30 p.m./NBCSP).

Hudrick 

Man, this is tricky. Playing Game 1 of the playoffs against the Nets wasn’t going to be the easiest thing. With Joel Embiid doubtful, the task got that much more difficult.

If Embiid is unable to go, and with Jonah Bolden questionable, it’s likely Boban Marjanovic gets the start. It also means that Greg Monroe might actually see meaningful, playoff minutes. Neither player is a great matchup for Brooklyn’s guard duo in the pick-and-roll (see film review).

The hope is Nets coach Kenny Atkinson counters Marjanovic with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, something that happened the last time the two teams played. That would allow Brett Brown to go small and play Mike Scott at the five. In reality, playing Scott or Ben Simmons the bulk of the minutes at the five may be Brown’s best strategy.

If Embiid is out, you still have Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and JJ Redick. You should have enough talent to overcome his absence for one game at home. Now that the playoffs are here, I’m expecting to see a different Butler. He makes the difference on both ends of the floor.

It will not be easy, but the Sixers win the game in a nail-biter.

Levick

A lot of things need to go right for Brooklyn to win games in this series. Back on Dec. 12, Spencer Dinwiddie had a career-high 39 points, Furkan Korkmaz started in Butler's place, and the Sixers still only lost by three points. The Nets just don't have much margin for error. Regardless of Embiid's health status — which is, deservedly, the central storyline of this series — the Sixers are the more talented team.

They're less prone to give away free possessions than they were last season, too. Over the final 14 regular-season games, the Sixers averaged 11.0 turnovers. It will be a lot easier to endure cold stretches of shooting when they're not accompanied by a rush of turnovers and easy transition opportunities as a result for the Nets.

I expect Butler to star in Game 1, and to show little of his typical early-game deference to his teammates offensively. He'll be determined to make a statement, and if the Sixers can take a first-quarter lead and spark the Wells Fargo Center crowd, Butler isn't going to settle for any letdowns or diminished intensity.

I also think rookie Zhaire Smith will have a strong postseason debut and alleviate some of the worries about the Sixers' perimeter defense. D'Angelo Russell, Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert are dangerous players, but I don't think they'll be able to do enough against Butler, Smith and Simmons to beat the Sixers in Game 1.

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Trey Burke showing why Sixers brought him here

Trey Burke showing why Sixers brought him here

When Trey Burke had an opportunity to sign with the Sixers this summer, he jumped on it.

He expressed his desire to get back to winning, like he did at Michigan when he was named national college player of the year. The fact that he’d be playing in the city where his idol Allen Iverson starred was also a great perk.

But ultimately, he just thought he had the skills that could help the Sixers and allow him to earn minutes. In Wednesday night’s 109-104 win over the Knicks, Burke proved that and more. 

Trailing by as many as 17 points in the third quarter, Brett Brown was looking for answers. He went to a lineup featuring Burke and Ben Simmons. It’s been a pairing Brown has been reluctant to go to, but it wound up winning the Sixers the game.

“We ended up leaning on Trey Burke as a two,” Brown said, “somebody that could do some stuff off a live ball and I thought his intensity changed the pace, the speed, the energy in the gym.”

When Burke had his first exposure to the Philadelphia media in a conference call, he said he was excited about the possibility of not only competing to back up Simmons, but also play alongside the young All-Star. Burke’s speed suits Simmons’ skill set. As does his ability to shoot the basketball and create his own shot.

Having two proficient ball handlers on the floor allowed the Sixers to get out and run and put the Knicks back on their heels.

“He gets it, I can just run and go. If I can get it, he can just run and go,” Burke said. “It’s our first time playing together so I can’t sit up here and be like, ‘Oh, we love playing with each other.’ But I loved that out there. I liked what I saw. I think coach liked what he saw, as well. I think we complemented each other well. We’ll see going forward.”

Burke numbers weren’t mind blowing (nine points, two assists), but he helped loosen things up.

As Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton both struggled defensively, Brown turned to Simmons to slow down New York’s guards. As Simmons took the game over on both ends, Burke was able to help by using his speed and quickness to take attention away from Simmons.

He also got a timely bucket during the team’s run and helped the Sixers close out the game thanks to his ability to take care of the basketball.

I kept searching trying to find something,” Brown said. “We tried Furk, I went away from him. We tried Shake, I went away from him. ... And then, as I said, you end up going to a point guard, a scoring point guard, like Trey is and treating him like A.I. Letting him just kind of run off the ball and looping him up and giving him the ball and put him in pick-and-rolls. I thought he was really good, but the iterations to get to that were frustrating.

Burke’s NBA road has been a winding one. After falling short of expectations as a top-10 pick, Burke has bounced around from Utah to Washington to New York to Dallas. He hasn’t followed his hero Iverson’s career trajectory, but he’s learned to star in his role.

He didn’t start the season as a regular contributor but has earned minutes recently as the Sixers’ backup point guard in front of Raul Neto. Burke admitted that the irregularity in playing is something that would’ve affected him when he was younger.

Now, he’s ready for whatever opportunity presents itself.

Knowing that I’ve been through it, knowing that I’ve turned it around,” Burke said when asked how he stays prepared. “Last year, playing in the G League … then, playing 30 minutes a night. So, situations can change depending on the mentality that you approach the day with. Besides all of that, just faith. It’s easier said than done. But you’ve gotta have something you can lean on when things get tough. Because we’re humans as well. We go home, face realities like everybody else.

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The story of the best day of Furkan Korkmaz's life is adorable

The story of the best day of Furkan Korkmaz's life is adorable

Furkan Korkmaz hitting a game winner for the Sixers in Portland earlier this month was a great moment for Philadelphia fans.

It was the best day of Korkmaz's life.

At least that's the story as told by ESPN's Zach Lowe who has a fantastic look at the state of the Sixers this morning with a focus on the great chemistry surrounding the team this season off of the court.

Lowe's piece opens with a scene in Portland that is just adorable:

The Philadelphia 76ers mobbed Furkan Korkmaz after his winning buzzer-beater in Portland on Nov. 2, but what they have cherished more than the win is the night that unfolded afterward. Tobias Harris organized a gathering at a local club to celebrate. Every player on the trip came but Al Horford, who says he was more or less a DNP-OLD.

They toasted Korkmaz. At one point, Josh Richardson approached Korkmaz and asked what he was feeling. "This is the best day of my life," Korkmaz replied with an earnestness that surprised Richardson. Mike Scott raised his voice an octave to imitate Korkmaz's giddiness in a separate conversation at the club: "'I never felt like this beforeeeeeeee!'"

Korkmaz has been a different player this season, one coach Brett Brown hopes to turn into a serious "bomber" from deep. He's gone from a fringe player on the roster to a guy who has filled in on the starting line up at times this season, including last night against the New York Knicks.

There's plenty of team bonding happening in the Lowe piece and we're also informed that Joel Embiid is a steakhouse kind of guy, which seems about right. There's also a scene in which Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are watching a Lakers game in the team's hotel lobby while on the road. 

You love to see it. 

The chemistry off the court is improving dramatically this season, hopefully that starts to translate to the work on the court. It'd be nice to see Korkmaz have a few more of the "best days of his life" before this season is over.