Predictions for Game 5 of Sixers vs. Nets playoff series

Predictions for Game 5 of Sixers vs. Nets playoff series

After a dramatic Game 4 win in Brooklyn that had everything you could've wanted, the Sixers can finish off the Nets Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center.

Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick give their predictions for Game 5: 

We’ve gotten the most positive injury update about Joel Embiid this entire series with him being listed as probable for Game 5 with left knee soreness. Though it’s super dangerous to do so, let’s look at this under the assumption Embiid will play.

Before Game 4 in Brooklyn, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson sounded like a man searching for answers. He lauded the Sixers’ starting five and it’s easy to see why. Of the five-man lineups that have played at least 30 minutes together this postseason, the Sixers’ starting unit has the highest offensive, defensive and net rating. Not too shabby for a group still working on its chemistry.

Brooklyn appears to be a desperate team. Their general manger burst into the referees’ locker room after Game 4 and their owner passive aggressively tweeted about officiating. Both were fined. With that said, it looks like the Sixers took the Nets’ best shot already.

The team has denied it, but that Game 1 loss sure seemed like a wake-up call. Jared Dudley poked the bear with Ben Simmons and Embiid is thriving in his villain role. Tobias Harris has also gotten his swagger back, and not a moment too soon. It feels like there’s a loose vibe around the Sixers right now. As a team, they appear to be in a good place.

“We want Toronto” chants will start about midway through the fourth quarter, and in front of a raucous Wells Fargo Center crowd, the Sixers end the series.

The Nets, fined a collective $85,000 following their loss Saturday ($25,000 for general manager Sean Marks, $25,000 for Jared Dudley and $35,000 for owner Joe Tsai), have nothing to lose — besides their season. They’ll reach another level of desperation in Game 5 and keep trying to irritate the Sixers as much as possible. Dudley is going to be booed like he’s never been booed before.

I don’t think any of it will matter much. The Sixers are clearly the more talented team in this series, and Joel Embiid the most dominant player. 

One reason the Nets have for optimism is their subpar three-point shooting over the past couple of games, particularly from Joe Harris. Brooklyn shot a combined 20 for 77 (26 percent) from long range in Games 3 and 4, and Harris — the NBA’s leader in three-point percentage during the regular season — is 0 for his last 12 from three. Though the Sixers’ defense is responsible for some of the Nets’ struggles from three-point territory, Brooklyn has missed plenty of open looks. They're due for an improved shooting performance.

Kenny Atkinson’s decision to place Dudley and LeVert in the starting lineup for Game 4 was effective, but it’s apparent the Nets simply don’t have the personnel to handle Embiid in the paint, Simmons in transition and Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris in the pick-and-roll.

I’m sticking with Sixers in five. 

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The Sixers should not trade Ben Simmons

The Sixers should not trade Ben Simmons

It seems like some people have a hard time quantifying just how good Ben Simmons has been in his young NBA career.

For comparison sake, let’s look at the two stars of the Eastern Conference Finals. Through the first two seasons of Kawhi Leonard’s career, he put up modest numbers, averaging 9.8 points per game. Giannis Antetokounmpo, this year’s likely MVP, averaged the identical number of points through his first two seasons.

Leonard was surrounded by Hall of Famers so he was just in a supporting role. In Antetokounmpo’s case, the Bucks just weren’t very good so not much was asked of him.

Simmons has outperformed both players through two years and has at times carried a team that’s won 50 games in back-to-back seasons. Yet as we enter the offseason, there are people who actually want to trade him.

He’s 22. He’s an All-Star. He has NBA All-Defensive team potential. He possesses skills that few have ever had at his size. So the next logical step is … trade him?

Yeah, totally.

Some of this speculation began because of an article our good friend Tom Haberstroh wrote. A Western Conference executive told our NBC Sports NBA Insider that the Sixers “very well might explore” the idea of trading Simmons for LeBron James. Sure, if there’s a chance to land the greatest player maybe ever, you “explore” it. But the idea just doesn’t add up, as Haberstroh ultimately alluded to.

"The safe money is that the Sixers brings the Philadelphia Phive back for redemption," Haberstroh writes. "The opinion here is that Simmons is too good and too young to bail on now."

Plus, Simmons will be eligible to sign his rookie max extension. If the Sixers are able to do so, it’ll keep Simmons in Philadelphia for the next six seasons. So what’s better, continuing to build around Joel Embiid AND Ben Simmons for the next half decade — at least — or go all-in on LeBron, who may not be thrilled to be traded here, for the next two years?

You can look at his numbers from a historical perspective compared to guys like James or Magic Johnson, but that doesn’t even properly enumerate what Simmons has done. This was his second year ever playing point guard. Not in the NBA, but of his entire basketball life. What he can do at 6-foot-10 doesn’t even make sense. 

He’s also used that length and freakish athleticism to become an improved and imposing defender. It’s not crazy to think that Simmons has Defensive Player of the Year potential. How many people were saying that about Leonard, who’s won the award, or Antetokounmpo after Year 2?

Simmons has one fatal flaw in his shot. It’s no secret that it’s the one thing likely keeping him from ascending from All-Star to All-NBA. Simmons was his usual reticent self when asked about how he’d work on his shot this offseason during exit interviews last week. 

Brett Brown provided the most insight.

If I’m sitting in front of you and he’s 26, I think the conversation would probably be a little bit more disingenuous,” Brown said last week. “It’s going to be this discussion for probably a few years where none of you are going to be happy if he’s not cranking out 10 15-footers a game. … And Ben knows this, too. But I stand by that this isn’t going to be the thing that defines him immediately. It will, at some point, for sure. And I feel like this year with Jimmy [Butler] having the ball and us putting him in different floor spots, he’s shown the versatility that we should all be thrilled with at age 22 and 6-foot-10, that I can use him in different areas.

That playoff loss to Toronto stung. Offensively, Simmons gave the Sixers very little outside of a virtuoso performance in Game 6 to keep his team alive. As much as the shot is an issue, that Game 6 win also showed that Simmons still has more to give outside of that. Because of his physical gifts, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Simmons is still a kid trying to figure out NBA playoff basketball.

So do you look for the best offer for Simmons this offseason or bank on the 22-year-old All-Star figuring things out and developing a shot in the next six years?

Playing the long game paid off for the teams that drafted Leonard and Antetokounmpo.

And both of their current teams are where the Sixers want to be.

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James Ennis will decline his player option but could very well still return to Sixers

James Ennis will decline his player option but could very well still return to Sixers

James Ennis will decline his player option and become a free agent, his agent, Scott Nichols from Rize Management, confirmed Monday morning.

The news was first reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. Ennis’ player option was for $1.85 million.

According to Nichols, Ennis is seeking a more lucrative, multi-year deal. Nichols said Ennis, after being acquired by the Sixers in February in a trade with the Houston Rockets, enjoyed his stint in Philadelphia, and it’s possible he could return to the Sixers. 

“He’s built good relationships within his short time there with his teammates like Ben [Simmons] and Joel [Embiid] and has found a quiet leadership role there, too,” Nichols told NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Ennis talked at his exit interview last Monday about the close friendship he’s developed with Simmons, mentioning that Simmons talked him into getting a Cane Corso dog, the same type of dog Simmons has. 

Ennis boosted his stock during the postseason as a key member of the Sixers’ bench, averaging 7.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 11 playoff games. During the regular season, Ennis won the “tournament” for wing minutes off the bench in a landslide, beating out Jonathon Simmons and Furkan Kokrmaz.

“It was tough at first because it was unsure if I was going to play,” Ennis said. “Me and Jonathon were play one game, sit one game, so it was kind of rocky at first. But I got more games under my belt, got more comfortable, and it just took off like that. I appreciate the staff believing in me, Elton Brand bringing me here and Coach [Brett] Brown allowing me to play.”

At 28 years old, Ennis has already played for six teams. The Sixers, if they’re willing to offer a deal that Ennis and Nichols like, may offer the stability that’s been lacking during his career.

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