76ers

Predictions for Sixers' first-round playoff series vs. Nets

Predictions for Sixers' first-round playoff series vs. Nets

Playoff basketball returns to the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday afternoon (2:30 p.m./NBCSP).

How will the Sixers fare against the Nets? NBC Sports Philadelphia's Paul Hudrick, Danny Pommells and Noah Levick make their predictions for the series. 

Hudrick 

This certainly wasn’t the easiest draw for the Sixers, but it’s the playoffs. The Nets have climbed out of the rubble of their disastrous trade with the Celtics and have assembled a damn good team.

The biggest thing for the Sixers will be containing the guard duo of D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, especially in the pick-and-roll. Russell and Dinwiddie have combined to average 44.8 points in the four matchups this season.

What encourages me most is the way the Sixers handled them in their most recent matchup, a 123-110 win. Playing at almost full strength, they were able to hold Russell and Dinwiddie to 13 points each. While some of that can be attributed to both players not having their best shooting nights, it was also the Sixers’ plan and execution.

I like the idea of Ben Simmons defending Russell. Simmons is strong enough to fight through pick-and-rolls set by a five, but also has quick enough feet to hang with Russell and force him to take long, contested twos. Same applies for Dinwiddie. When both guards are on the floor, Jimmy Butler has to be guarding one of them. What you can’t have is JJ Redick or T.J. McConnell on either of them.

I don’t see the Sixers losing at home, where they finished 31-10 this season. When/if they do lose a game in Brooklyn, I see them taking it as a smack in the mouth and then closing out the series.

Sixers in five

Pommells 

The Sixers trudged through the end of the regular season, but with a purpose. And the time has come for their stored energy to erupt in the postseason, principally on the Nets. But with the Sixers' starting five boasting a mere 10 games played as a unit (going 8-2 in that stretch), what kind of series should we expect against a team the Sixers split the season series with at 2-2? A tough one. Not to mention Joel Embiid’s health is about as touchy a topic as the Philadelphia soda tax.

Flat out, the Sixers' defense is not good enough to beat the Nets without the full services of Embiid for the majority of the series. I believe he will play and dominate, but there is no way of knowing how Embiid’s knee will respond from game to game. What specifically worries me the most about Brooklyn? The Nets attempt and makes the fifth most three-pointers in the league. Their perimeter shooting is top tier and accentuates a sore spot for the Sixers; great individual perimeter defenders but subpar perimeter defense. It’s strange, I know. I believe the Sixers will win in six games, but it is in their best interest to dispatch of Brooklyn in the least amount of games possible to prepare for the rest of the postseason gauntlet. Jobs and livelihoods are surely on the line for the Sixers.

Sixers in six 

Levick 

Landry Shamet, Furkan Korkmaz, Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala all played key roles during the Sixers’ regular-season series against the Nets. It’s likely none of those players will see significant minutes during this playoff series. Only one of them, Korkmaz, is still on the roster.

Through all the roster turnover, the Sixers’ problems with pick-and-roll defense have remained constant. They’re in much better shape now than they were on Nov. 4, when the Nets beat them by 25 points and Korkmaz, Shamet, Redick and McConnell were targeted often, but it’s still a concern. 

First-time All-Star Russell and Dinwiddie are threats off the dribble, Caris LeVert has averaged 16.0 points and 4.3 assists over his last nine games, and Joe Harris has the best three-point shooting percentage in the NBA. The defensive matchup is clearly a challenge for the Sixers.

I don’t foresee the Sixers having much trouble scoring. Outside of that Nov. 4 loss, when he attempted a season-low eight field goals, Embiid posted 34.7 points per game and shot 61.4 percent from the floor this season against the Nets. Brooklyn can’t handle a healthy Embiid one-on-one, and Embiid’s passing out of double teams — despite his frequent absences — has been impressive recently.

The Sixers’ starting lineup, 8-2 together, has a talent advantage vast enough that the bench doesn’t have to do anything special against Brooklyn. I think the Sixers will take a competitive five-game series. 

Sixers in five 

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Brett Brown calls out Sixers' turnover problem: 'Until we fix this, this is a house built on sand'

Brett Brown calls out Sixers' turnover problem: 'Until we fix this, this is a house built on sand'

Brett Brown has been asked about turnovers many times during his six-plus years as head coach of the Sixers. They are a concern, he has acknowledged often. 

“Our turnovers continue to haunt us and we can’t let it go,” he said in December of 2016.

“It is on me, and it keeps us up late at night,” he admitted a little over a year later.

On March 13, 2018, Brown said of the Sixers’ turnover woes, “As a team, we have to get better. Some of it I have to own.”

So, in one sense, what Brown had to say Sunday night about the Sixers’ turnovers shouldn’t be shocking. He hasn’t shirked away from this problem. And, for the most part, it’s been an issue that’s gnawed at the Sixers throughout his tenure. The team has finished either 29th or 30th in turnovers in the NBA every season under Brown besides last year, when they were 25th. After recording 20 turnovers Sunday in a 114-106 win over the Hornets, the 6-3 Sixers are last in the league with 18.8 turnovers per game. But Brown’s comments Sunday were perhaps as impassioned as we’ve heard him on the subject.

This is what I tell the team: Until we can fix this, this is a house built on sand. It is fool’s gold. And we have to find a discipline and a better way to control that. Because the turnovers in the first half, some of them were live ball, a lot of them were just getting things batted out of our hands. We can’t fool ourselves — this is a problem. This is a problem. And we need to own it. I’m the head coach, I’ve gotta find a way to fix it. There needs to be a level of accountability with the players. And that’s that. It’s not anything that we take lightly — we don’t dismiss it. The times are over when you’re looking at some of the young guys and you can justify it. You can’t do that anymore. It’s time that we get better at that. And the players know it. They understand it. But we better fix it.

Like in years past, there are a variety of reasons the Sixers have committed this volume of turnovers. Joel Embiid inflated the number by coughing it up eight times in the Mile High City. There are two new starters in Josh Richardson and Tobias Harris, and some new players coming off the bench. As Brown said, though, youth is no longer a good excuse. 

“That’s definitely our biggest flaw right now,” Richardson said. “I think sometimes we get careless. And I think sometimes we get too unselfish, too. On possessions where you get a decent look and pass it up and then we end up turning it over. It’s like, could we really have gotten a better look at it? But I think that’s a good problem to have. I think we’ve just gotta watch the film and figure out what we’re doing wrong outside of that.”

It’s possible to turn the ball over a lot and still go far as a team. Last year, Monty Williams — at the time an assistant with the Sixers, now the head coach of the Suns — noted that “being in the top five or even the top 10 in turnovers does not guarantee you success.” 

The Sixers have mitigated some of their turnovers by being the best offensive rebounding team in the league. They’re also forcing 16.8 turnovers per game, over four more than they did in 2018-19. The turnovers hurt, but perhaps not as badly as they would for a team also losing possessions in those other categories. 

“That’s been our biggest thing this year,” Tobias Harris said. “A lot of them have just come from — like myself today, I had two travels in the beginning. We’re going to find each other and our spots and how we want to play, things we can do to execute better. If we can just limit to half of those, protect the ball a little bit better, I think that will help us out a whole lot.”

Cutting their turnovers in half would lead the Sixers to be the best in the league at taking care of the ball, so that’s likely not a realistic goal. But Harris’ overall point is fair. It’s not this simple, but if the Sixers could, in each game, eliminate an unforced turnover, an excessively unselfish turnover, and a “new guys getting used to each other” turnover, that would go a long way. 

The NBA started officially recording turnovers in the 1977-78 season. No team has both led the league in turnovers and won an NBA title since then. 

“I think a lot of them were guys mean[ing] well and trying to make certain reads,” Horford said. “We’re just not necessarily clicking how we need to be. Maybe some plays are there … we’re just getting to know each other. Also, we have to be more conscious about taking care of the ball. I believe that as the season goes on, we’ll be fine.”

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Sixers' Josh Richardson opens up about mental health: 'It's tough to dig yourself out of that hole'

Sixers' Josh Richardson opens up about mental health: 'It's tough to dig yourself out of that hole'

After being traded from the Miami Heat to the Sixers this summer, Josh Richardson admitted he was in a "hole" with his mental health.

“It’s one of those things you constantly have to think about," Richardson said. "You have to consciously stay on your mental health, because if you don’t, you can look up and you’re depressed or you’re just not in the right state of mind. I’ve seen guys succumb to that. It’s tough to dig yourself out of that hole. I was there, to be honest. I was there this summer for a while. I got a therapist and I’ve been trying to work that out."

In an open interview, which you can watch above, Richardson discussed the challenges of being diligent about mental health in the highly competitive environment of the NBA, and explained why he tries to “embrace the negative.”

NBC Sports Regional Networks has launched a multi-platform campaign on mental health and men's health, HeadStrong: Mental Health and Sports, for the month of November. You can find more information about the initiative here

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