Jimmy Butler

Why Sixers should want the Heat, not the Celtics, in first round of NBA playoffs

Why Sixers should want the Heat, not the Celtics, in first round of NBA playoffs

The Sixers beat the Celtics three out of four times in the regular season, so the conventional wisdom suggests that Brett Brown should try everything in his power to engineer a first-round matchup with Boston.

He could even rest some starters and drop a couple winnable seeding games in Orlando in hopes of finishing sixth in the Eastern Conference.

Then you get Boston in a No. 3 vs. No. 6 first-round series and avoid top-seeded Milwaukee until the Eastern Conference Finals.

Nice theory, right?

Well, I’m here to tell you it’s totally wrong.

Instead of an early date with Boston, the Sixers should be angling to end up in a 4 vs. 5 series against their old buddy Jimmy Butler and the Heat.

But wait, didn’t the Sixers lose the season series to Miami, 3-1? 

Indeed, they did.

But the thing is, the playoffs are not the regular season. And this Miami team is very young and not playoff-tested. 

After Jimmy Butler, many of their other rotation players have little to no postseason experience. Bam Adebayo has played five playoff games. Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson will all be making their playoff debuts. 

Miami lives on those young guys making threes to space the floor for Butler and Adebayo. We’ll see if those shots fall in their first playoff series.

As for Miami’s recent additions, Jae Crowder brings toughness and veteran savvy, but there’s also a reason he’s on his fourth team in the last three seasons. Expecting him to be a playoff difference-maker is asking a lot.

Andre Iguodala obviously became a playoff legend with the Warriors. He’s also 36 years old and has averaged 4.4 points in 14 games since joining the Heat. Maybe Erik Spoelstra is just saving Iguodala for big moments in the playoffs. I’ll take my chances.

Also, while you may think that Joel Embiid matches up great with Boston, the truth is that his numbers were significantly better against Miami. In four games against the Heat this season, Embiid averaged 27.3 points and shot 56.3 percent from the field. 

It makes sense. The 6-foot-9 Adebayo is simply too small to deal with Embiid. Meyers Leonard and Kelly Olynyk are too slow. 

Embiid’s stats against Boston? 21.3 points per game and 39.1 percent shooting from the field. He had one monster game against the Celtics (38 points on 12 for 21 shooting) and one awful game (11 points on 1 of 11 shooting). 

Boston is also simply a more complete team than Miami, with a plus-6.2 point differential per game compared to plus-3.3 for the Heat. The Celtics have three players who average at least 20 points per game (Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown) and another in Gordon Hayward who’s capable of going for 20 on any given night. That’s a lot more firepower than Miami brings to the table.

Also, Tatum emerged as one of the NBA’s best scorers in the last two months before the COVID-19 shutdown, averaging 27.9 points on 48.8 shooting from the field and 45.5 percent shooting from three-point range. His becoming an efficient, volume scorer makes defending the Celtics much more difficult. 

If you don’t double him, he goes off. If you double him, the Celtics have scorers all over the floor. And unlike Miami, those guys have extensive playoff experience.

The Sixers certainly could beat the Celtics in a playoff series. I wouldn’t be shocked. Playing Kemba Walker against Philadelphia’s big lineups exposes Boston defensively and maybe Embiid just goes off against Boston’s duo of Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter.

But Boston is going to be an extremely tough out. They can score, they can defend and Tatum’s transformation into a go-to guy gives them another dimension. Marcus Smart is one of the best defenders in the league, regardless of position. Many of those guys have been through the playoff wars. 

Unlike the previous two seasons, the Sixers won’t have an easy first-round playoff opponent this year. Miami would certainly be formidable. Butler would be a problem. But I’ll take my chances against that young Heat squad over a Boston team with better scorers and more playoff experience.

I think Miami, Milwaukee and the Boston/Toronto winner presents an easier path to reach the NBA Finals than having to beat Boston, Toronto and Milwaukee. 

You’ve got to beat the Bucks either way. But you can’t beat the Bucks unless you make it to that series. 

Survive and advance.

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The ultimate Sixers Villains honorable mentions

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USA Today Images/Bill Streicher

The ultimate Sixers Villains honorable mentions

All week at NBC Sports Philadelphia, we're debating the biggest villains in Philly sports history. Today, we look at the Sixers. You can vote here

The four greatest villains in Sixers history are the Colangelos, Magic Johnson, the 1980s Celtics and Andrew Bynum, according to our panel.

Here, we look at a few villains who just missed the cut.

Reggie Miller

This one may be a little personal for those who grew up worshipping Allen Iverson.

It wasn’t quite Michael Jordan vs. the “Bad Boy” Pistons, but the Sixers were a young team that struggled with the experienced and physical Pacers. In 1999 and 2000, Iverson and the Sixers won their first-round series before having to square off with Indiana. Both times the Pacers came out on top. It was only fitting that the Sixers took down Indiana in the first round in 2001 on their way to the Finals.

Miller was one of the best shooters in NBA history … but he was also a jerk. As we saw in The Last Dance documentary, Miller loved to talk trash and often took a shot or two after the whistle. When you look back on it, those Pacers teams were very good. They had Rik Smits, Dale and Antonio Davis, Jalen Rose and Mark Jackson, among others. But it was Miller who led the way and pissed off a bunch of Sixers fans in the process.

Miller is an honorable mention simply because he’s pretty much a villain everywhere — especially in New York.

Danny Ainge (the GM)

There was plenty to dislike about Ainge the basketball player. Similar to Miller, he was prone to chirp and take the occasional cheap shot.

But just when you thought you couldn’t possibly despise Ainge more, he took the Celtics’ GM job and fleeced multiple teams — including the Sixers.

It all started when Ainge pulled off a heist that would make what the Ocean’s 11 crew did look like petty theft. Former Sixers GM Billy King took over as Nets GM and essentially handed Ainge four first-round picks for whatever was left of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

If it wasn’t bad enough that Ainge appeared to set Boston up for the foreseeable future with that deal, he used the No. 1 overall pick in 2017 to swindle Bryan Colangelo and the Sixers. Colangelo gave up the third overall pick and a 2019 first-round pick in order to move up two spots to select Markelle Fultz. Ainge knew something was off about Fultz and had his eyes set on Jayson Tatum. The rest is unfortunate history.

The only solace Sixers fans can take is that Ainge has yet to win a championship since disbanding the 2008 championship team. But thanks to strong drafting and a great coaching hire, Ainge and the Celtics will likely be villains for years to come.

Jimmy Butler

A Batman enthusiast, Butler has indeed lived long enough to see himself become a villain for many Sixers fans. 

It’s a role he seems to savor. 

“I know a place where villains are welcome,” he commented on Joel Embiid’s Instagram post in February after the All-Star center had shushed the Wells Fargo Center crowd.

Butler enjoys confrontation and certainly doesn’t appear to mind controversy. 

“I love that s---,” Butler said after Brett Brown gave a fiery halftime address in Game 3 of the Sixers’ first-round playoff series against the Nets last year. “I love when people get cussed at, yelled at and say, you know, ‘You can’t do that, it’s your fault.’ I’m all for it.” 

He is not hesitant to discuss the hard work that’s helped him become a five-time All-Star and has spoken about how well he fits “Heat Culture.” Of course, Butler has said he did not feel the same way about Brown and the Sixers.

If Butler can win a title in Miami and/or eliminate the Sixers from the playoffs, he’ll rise up the villain ranks. 

1960s Celtics 

Nobody could beat Boston in the ‘60s besides the Sixers, who snapped the Celtics’ run of eight consecutive championships in 1967. For most of the decade, though, the Celtics were responsible for ending the Sixers’ season early. If you count the Syracuse Nationals’ loss to Boston in the 1961 Eastern Division Finals, the franchise fell to the Celtics five times in the playoffs during the 1960s. 

Two of those series defeats were in seven games, including a crushing blown 3-1 lead in 1968 with Billy Cunningham sidelined by a broken wrist. It was the first time the Sixers had lost three straight games all season. 

The sheer volume of great Celtics during that period is immense. Nine players on those five teams that eliminated the Sixers were eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame, including John Havlicek — you may have heard that he stole the ball to seal the 1965 Eastern Division Finals — K.C. Jones, Tommy Heinsohn, Sam Jones and Bill Russell. There was Red Auerbach and the demoralizing sight of his victory cigar, too, a perfect symbol of villainy. 

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The 10 best Sixers without an NBA title

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The 10 best Sixers without an NBA title

When a franchise hasn’t won a championship in 37 years, it’s going to have some great players who haven’t won titles.

This list ranks the best 10, considering both overall career and performance/impact as a Sixer, with more weight given to the latter. It only looks at players who have never won an NBA championship with any team, meaning names like Andre Iguodala are not included. 

10. Steve Mix 
​​​​​​“The Mayor” was a key piece for some very good Sixers teams throughout the mid-70s and early-80s. He played 668 games with the team over nine seasons, winning three Eastern Conference titles and being named an All-Star in the 1974-75 season. Though he wasn’t a huge scorer, Mix chipped in across the board and was consistently an above average, winning player. 

9. Jimmy Butler 
Butler appears on this ranking mostly because of his accomplishments outside of Philadelphia. Over the last six seasons, he’s averaged 21.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.8 steals. It didn’t work out here, but denying Butler is one of the best players to pass through Philadelphia would be foolish. At 30 years old, the five-team All-Star is searching for his first championship with the Heat. 

8. Ben Simmons
Simmons, a two-time All-Star and Rookie of the Year winner, is easily the youngest player on our list. To be clear, we’re not saying he’s already had a better career than Butler, but that he deserves this spot because of his early impact as a Sixer. It would be a major snub if Simmons does not appear on an All-Defensive Team this season, and he should be in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. 

7. Joel Embiid 
Because of his many injury woes, Embiid has actually played in 12 fewer regular-season games than Simmons. While Embiid isn’t happy with how he’s played this year or what he’s accomplished so far, he’s on a Hall of Fame trajectory, health permitting. He’ll hope to no longer be eligible for this particular list when his career is over. 

6. Archie Clark 
Well before it was the norm, Clark was hitting defenders with shifty crossovers and Euro steps, earning the nickname “Shake and Bake.” A ball handling pioneer, Clark played three full seasons in Philadelphia after being included in the trade that sent Wilt Chamberlain to the Lakers, averaging 18.2 points and 4.7 assists. If you haven’t seen them before, his highlights are worth watching.

5. Doug Collins 
Collins’ career was shortened by injuries, but at his peak he appeared in four straight All-Star Games and posted about 20 points per contest. A tangential note: He should be an Olympic hero and gold medalist. 

4. Dikembe Mutombo 
In his 10th NBA season, Mutombo won his first conference title in 2001 as a Sixer. While he only spent a season and a half here, Mutombo is one of the best defensive centers ever, with eight All-Star appearances, four Defensive Player of the Year awards and that iconic finger wag. He’s also an internationally renowned humanitarian

3. George McGinnis 
A two-time ABA champion with the Pacers, McGinnis came close to a title in his second season with the Sixers, who fell to the Trail Blazers in Game 6 of the 1977 Finals despite 40 points from Julius Erving and a 28-point, 16-rebound effort from McGinnis. He averaged 21.6 points, 11.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists in three seasons here before being traded to Denver. 

2. Allen Iverson
Given how beloved Iverson is with a single NBA Finals victory on his résumé, just imagine the level of adulation if he’d won a series. As a Sixer, Iverson led the league in minutes per game five times, scoring four times and steals three times. He’s a legend, even without a title. 

1. Charles Barkley 
Regardless of team, Barkley should be one of the first names that comes to mind when thinking about the best NBA players to never win a championship. During a nine-season peak from 1988 to 1996, he scored 24.9 points, grabbed 11.5 rebounds and dished 4.1 assists per game. 

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