76ers

Sixers clinch Eastern Conference's third seed with Celtics' loss

Sixers clinch Eastern Conference's third seed with Celtics' loss

It’s officially official: The Sixers have clinched the Eastern Conference’s third seed with the Celtics’ loss to the Magic Sunday night.

Unlike last season when the team won its last 16 games on its way to the three seed, the Sixers have kind of limped to the finish line. With Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler both missing time, it looked like the team was just kind of coasting until the postseason.

But hey, Brett Brown and company got the job done. Brown has had to manage what feels like three different teams. In 10 games as the fully functioning “Sixers 3.0,” the team is 8-2. Is that sample size a preview of what we’ll see in the postseason? Stay tuned.

So what will the team do now with Embiid and Butler with two games left to play? Embiid played 27 minutes Saturday night in Chicago. Butler hasn’t played in the last two games. Beyond the actual injuries, the biggest concern will be their fitness level — especially with Embiid.

With the Nets’ win over the Pacers Sunday night, Brooklyn has punched its ticket to the playoffs and is currently in the driver’s seat to play the Sixers in the first round as the sixth seed. Orlando could still leapfrog the Nets with a game to play, but with both teams at 41-40, Brooklyn holds the tiebreaker after winning the season series. 

Both teams have given the Sixers trouble at times this season. They split four games with each team. The Nets have gone through a gauntlet to close out the season while the Magic have been one of the best teams in the league since the All-Star break.

But after sleepwalking through the last couple weeks of the regular season, expect a different Sixers team this coming weekend.

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Who will be Sixers' backup point guard in 2019-20 season?

Who will be Sixers' backup point guard in 2019-20 season?

With training camp getting closer, there are plenty of topics to discuss involving the 2019-20 Sixers. Running the Give and Go are NBC Sports Philadelphia's Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick.

In this edition, we ask: Who will be the Sixers' backup point guard this season?

Hudrick 

This a tough call and should be a legitimate competition.

I like Trey Burke’s game and his ability to get his own shot. It’s a strong NBA skill and not one many of the other Sixers have. He also doesn’t turn the ball over — he’s averaged less than a turnover a game in 17.3 minutes a game the last three seasons combined. He also shot 37.4 percent from three during that span, meaning he could also play next to Ben Simmons. If it were me, Burke would get the first crack at the role.

But Raul Neto seems like the more likely candidate to get backup point guard duties. Neto is a pure floor general who will bring a calming influence that should delight Brett Brown. He started playing professionally overseas when he was 16 and has 20 games of playoff experience under his belt. Neto’s only issue the past couple seasons has been durability, but when healthy, he’s a decent offensive playmaker and shooter (37.7 percent for his career from three).

It should be nice for Brown to have options for once. I still like Shake Milton’s game and would like to see him get a little time as the backup point this season — despite a tough summer league experience. I could also see Josh Richardson getting a few minutes as the team’s primary ball handler. He had the most ball-dominant season of his NBA career last season and averaged 4.1 assists.

Whichever player gets the role will also be aided by Al Horford, an outstanding passer for a big man (4.6 assists per game the last three seasons) who can run some point forward.

Levick 

This is an interesting sequel to the Jazz’s starting point guard competition in 2015-16, when Neto won the job over Burke. I expect that to happen again, but for Burke to still be in the mix and even preferred over Neto in some matchups. Here’s my thinking:

Neto was signed before Burke and his contract is fully guaranteed, whereas Burke’s deal is partially guaranteed, according to reports. Those details don’t indicate the spot is automatically Neto’s, but they do suggest the competition might be slightly tipped in his favor to start.

Burke is a positive in several areas offensively. He’s excellent in the pick-and-roll, has a good assist-to-turnover ratio (3.6 assists to 1.3 turnover for his career) and can create offense out of nothing. Defensively, he’s poor, to the extent that you’d be worried whether he can be picked on in a playoff setting. The 6-foot-1 guard has a defensive box plus-minus of minus-3 or lower each of the last three seasons.

Neto isn’t great defensively, but you figure Brown would be inclined to trust him over Burke. He doesn’t have Burke’s “I’ll get you a bucket” sort of game, but the Brazilian can also put pressure on a defense. In just 12.8 minutes per game last year, he averaged 7.1 drives, shooting 51.9 percent on those possessions.

It’s a luxury to have someone like Burke who can explode for 42 points in a game or go on a solo scoring run, and he could become a necessity if Neto deals with injuries, as he has the last three seasons. Even in the event both are healthy, if the Sixers are struggling to score from the perimeter and/or facing a small point guard who’s a weak defender, Burke might be the guy.

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Uh Oh: Stephen A. Smith is predicting HUGE things for Sixers this season

Uh Oh: Stephen A. Smith is predicting HUGE things for Sixers this season

Stephen A. Smith's track record of predicting things is suspect to say the least.

So it's with great trepidation that Philadelphia 76ers fans should watch the below clip in which he predicts an NBA Finals appearance for Brett Brown's club this coming season.

Smith made the prediction on ESPN's First Take on Friday morning while sitting alongside NBA legend Magic Johnson (the joke about tampering with Giannis may have been the highlight of the segment).

"The Philadelphia 76ers are going to the NBA Finals," Smith declares. "I'm going to defer to my man Jalen Rose when he points out that Boston arguably has the best perimeter shooting team. We can't ignore that. Toronto lost Kawhi, ain't nothing to discuss. The Greek Freak, as phenomenal as he is, the combo of not having a reliable perimeter shot combined with Malcolm Brogdon being in Indiana..."

"My attitude is, I don't like the fact that Philly lost JJ Redick, that's a big loss to me," Smith continues. "The fact that Boston no longer has Al Horford and the Sixers do, not only somebody to pair with Embiid but to spell him whenever he's out. I'm going to believe Ben Simmons has been working on his shot. I'm going to believe Tobias Harris doesn't have to worry about co-existing with Jimmy Butler and that's a plus. I'm going to believe Josh Richardson can play at both ends of the floor..."

"I'm a little suspect on their bench, but I think the Sixers are going to be playing in June."

On the bright side for Philly fans, it's not like Smith is making some bold proclamation here. FiveThirtyEight's prediction model actually gives the Sixers the best chances of making the Finals of any team in the NBA given the East's weaker make up than the West. In fact, they give the Sixers almost twice as good a chance of doing so than the next closest Eastern contender the Bucks (54% vs. 27%).

So Stephen A. isn't going out on a limb, but it never feels great when he picks your squad in anything.

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