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).
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.
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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