76ers

Predictions for Game 3 of Sixers vs. Nets playoff series

Predictions for Game 3 of Sixers vs. Nets playoff series

The Sixers used a record-setting third quarter in Game 2 to convincingly beat the Nets and even the series at 1-1.

Can the Sixers carry that momentum over into Game 3 (8 p.m./NBCSP/MyTeams app)? Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick give their predictions:

Hudrick
In last year’s playoffs, the Miami Heat played the Sixers tough. They were physical — sometimes bordering on dirty — and the young Sixers battled through it. Emotions boiled over at times, including one instance where Goran Dragic smacked Ben Simmons in the head.

This series against the Brooklyn Nets may be entering a similar phase. While I do believe Joel Embiid wasn’t intending to elbow Jarrett Allen in the neck in Game 2, it still happened. And while Embiid and Simmons sharing a laugh about the situation was more about Embiid showing a little humility for a change, put yourself in the Nets’ shoes. The Sixers beat you up physically, they put up a record-setting third quarter and then laughed about it postgame.

This could get ugly.

Expect Brooklyn to come out fired up on their home court, but also expect the Sixers to relish the role of villain. Embiid always seems to get a little extra juice from boos and trash talk. There should be plenty of both Thursday.

What you saw out of the Sixers in the third quarter in Game 2 likely isn’t repeatable, but it does show what this team is capable of when they’re attacking the rim and defending the pick-and-roll and three-point line. The Sixers have more talent than the Nets and that was on display Monday.

My bold prediction for this one is that Tobias Harris fully breaks out of his slump. He had a 12-point third quarter Monday and played some of the best defense we’ve seen from him since he got here. After sounding dejected following a rough Game 1, he looked like he got his swagger back.

Sixers win a tight one and take back home-court advantage.

Levick
The Sixers’ last game in Brooklyn was one of their most memorable this season. They came back from a 20-point deficit on Nov. 25 thanks to 18 fourth-quarter points from Jimmy Butler, including a game-winning three-pointer over Rondae Hollis-Jefferson with 0.4 seconds left.

I don’t expect the Sixers will find themselves in such a large hole Thursday night.

Just about every adjustment Brett Brown made for Game 2 worked. No T.J. McConnell or Jonathon Simmons, with James Ennis as his main backup wing; more Jimmy Butler at the point; a forceful halftime message to run Brooklyn off the three-point line — all effective.

Kenny Atkinson will likely make some tweaks for Game 3 in response. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in the game earlier to challenge Boban Marjanovic defensively. Atkinson might also decide enough is enough and start respecting Marjanovic’s ability as a shooter. More physicality when Ben Simmons gets into the paint wouldn’t be the worst idea either; Simmons is just 3 for 9 from the foul line in the series.

The problem for Atkinson and the Nets is, in all likelihood, their adjustments will be at the margins. There’s not much they can do about the Sixers’ superior talent other than sagging way off Simmons and Embiid, a strategy those two countered well in Game 2 simply by attacking the open space without hesitation and putting pressure on the defense.

The Sixers won’t score 52 points in the first quarter, as Butler said he hoped they would, but they’ll take Game 3.

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Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons out for Hawks game with back injury, will have additional evaluation Monday

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons out for Hawks game with back injury, will have additional evaluation Monday

Ben Simmons went through an initial evaluation on his back Sunday in Philadelphia, will have an additional evaluation Monday and is out for the Sixers’ game tomorrow night vs. the Atlanta Hawks, a team source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia. 

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the news.

Simmons missed Thursday’s game vs. the Nets with lower back soreness and irritated the injury in the first quarter Saturday night against the Bucks. 

Head coach Brett Brown said Thursday that Simmons was injured at the team’s practice Wednesday.

“It was a play where he went up for a rebound and I looked over and he left the court, and went and got treatment,” Brown said. “And it has played out as it has played out. We don’t believe it’s anything too significant.”

After drawing a foul on Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez with 7:21 left in the first on a running hook shot, Simmons put his hands on his knees and appeared in discomfort. He stayed in to make 1 of 2 free throws, and the Sixers then had Matisse Thybulle commit a foul to stop the game and allow Simmons to return to the locker room.

Before Saturday, Simmons had been averaging 16.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.9 assists this season in a team-high 36.3 minutes per game. The two-time All-Star has an NBA-best 115 steals. 

Simmons had entered the All-Star break strong, with a 26-point triple-double in the Sixers’ Feb. 11 win over the Clippers. 

He’d posted 20.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game in the final 18 contests before the All-Star Game, shooting 68.9 percent from the foul line during that stretch. When Joel Embiid was out with a torn ligament in his left ring finger, Simmons had carried the Sixers to a 6-3 record. 

With 25 regular-season games remaining, the Sixers are 35-22 and fifth in the Eastern Conference standings. They have a 26-2 home record, best in the NBA, and a 9-20 away mark that’s the worst of any team currently in a playoff position. The team’s remaining schedule is the easiest in the league.

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If Ben Simmons is sidelined for an extended period, how will Sixers adapt?

If Ben Simmons is sidelined for an extended period, how will Sixers adapt?

We don’t need to spend much time explaining how and why Ben Simmons is very valuable for the Sixers. 

The two-time All-Star leads the NBA in steals and, before irritating a lower back injury Saturday night in Milwaukee, was averaging 16.9 points, 8.3 assists and 7.9 rebounds.

Of course, the Sixers will hope the injury doesn’t keep Simmons out for long. The question of how the Sixers will manage if Simmons’ injury does sideline him for an extended period of time, however, deserves attention.

Who’d be in the starting lineup? 

Though Raul Neto started in Simmons’ place Thursday against the Nets, he didn’t play against the Bucks until the game was well out of hand.

Shake Milton handled much of the point guard duties after Simmons left and was solid, making 5 of 7 three-point shots and scoring 17 points.

Josh Richardson and Alec Burks are other ball handling options, with Brett Brown seeming to prefer Burks’ “scoring punch” off the bench.

In his second NBA season, Milton has posted 6.7 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game, shooting 36.9 percent from three. The 23-year-old was on a two-way contract with the Sixers as a rookie and starred with the Delaware Blue Coats, scoring 24.9 points per game in the G League.

Who else would be impacted? 

Between Jan. 25 and Feb. 9, Milton started eight straight games for the Sixers because of Richardson’s hamstring injury. Brown didn’t play him as much as a typical starter during that stretch, giving him 25.4 minutes per game. He only exceeded 30 minutes once, when he scored a career-high 27 points on Jan. 30 in Atlanta.

Milton again would not likely be assuming full-on starters minutes. Perhaps Richardson and Burks would combine for a greater sum of backup point guard minutes than usual. If Richardson were to handle backup point guard duties, that would presumably mean Glenn Robinson III, Furkan Korkmaz and Matisse Thybulle would have more minutes to take on the wing. 

Simmons was averaging a team-high 36.3 minutes entering Saturday’s game, so there is simply a lot of playing time that would need to be allocated among multiple players. 

Where would the Sixers suffer the most? 

The defense would take a big hit. The on-off stats mysteriously indicate that the Sixers have been a better defensive team with Simmons not on the floor, but they’d clearly be losing one of the best defenders in the game. 

Along with being first in steals, Simmons has the most total deflections and the most defensive loose balls recovered. He can defend opposing stars and, in general, most point guards, wings and power forwards. The Sixers would not be able to replace that defensive versatility or overall quality.

They’d obviously gain something in terms of outside shooting but would lose a lot in other offensive areas. Simmons has assisted on more threes than any player this season.

How much would it hurt overall? 

Because Simmons has played in 214 of a possible 221 regular-season games over the last three seasons, we don’t have any meaningful track record of how the Sixers tend to fare without him.

Joel Embiid would be the focus of a Simmons-less team, and it would make sense for the offense to involve more Embiid post-ups than ever.

The most basic formula for success without Simmons would be an elite Embiid on both ends of the floor, Milton and other guards succeeding in expanded roles, and Tobias Harris and Al Horford being better across the board, especially as three-point shooters. It’s not impossible that all those pieces would come together, but it would be a lot to ask. 

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