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.
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
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
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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