NBA Playoffs

2020 NBA playoffs: Predictions for Sixers' postseason fate

2020 NBA playoffs: Predictions for Sixers' postseason fate

What should we expect from the Sixers as they resume their season at Walt Disney World? 

Before the team's first seeding game Saturday night against the Pacers, NBC Sports Philadelphia's Serena Winters, Danny Pommells, Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick predict how the team will fare in the playoffs.

Hudrick 

What I’ve learned in my time covering the Sixers is that you can’t predict anything with this team … ever. They have the talent to make a run to the Finals but underperformed through 65 games and could just as easily lose in the first round.

There are just so many questions. Will the new-look starting five give the offense a spark? Can Al Horford find his place and play well next to Joel Embiid? Will Embiid and Ben Simmons elevate their games? The bench is deeper than last season, but is there enough postseason experience among the reserves? Is Brett Brown the guy to get this team over the top?

Though they’re not unbeatable, the Milwaukee Bucks have the best record in the NBA and arguably the best player in the world in Giannis Antetokounmpo. While the Sixers match up well with two big bodies to contend with the Greek Freak, I don’t think they can beat them in a best-of-seven series. So, whether it’s the second round or the Eastern Conference Finals, I see Milwaukee ending the Sixers’ season.

Winters 

If the Sixers can stay healthy, I’m taking them to win the East. The more we’ve talked to the players over the past couple weeks in the bubble, the more I get a sense that the time off, coupled with an environment where players are building an off-court chemistry (playing golf, fishing, team dinners, etc.), could be just what this team needed. On top of that, we’re seeing significant on-court changes being made to remedy what has been the Sixers' most prevalent issue on the court: spacing.

Are you ready for my run-on sentence? If sliding Simmons over to the four in the starting unit gives Embiid more space to go to work, while adding another perimeter shooter in Shake Milton, while also tapping into Simmons’ scoring ability at the elbow and giving him the freedom to run in transition, and Horford is there to lock down the Embiid-less units (which was one of the biggest concerns last postseason), well then … hello, Eastern Conference Finals!

But I’ll be watching like everyone else as the new starting five takes the court for the very first time in a meaningful game, just eight games before the playoffs. I do know one thing — when Embiid is at his best, there is no stopping him. And if this new unit increases Embiid’s productivity, the Sixers are going to be a problem.

Pommells 

There's no Sixers fan around the globe that isn’t expecting something significant from this talented team come the postseason. Time, an abundance of talent and dollars spent has backed the Sixers into a high-stakes corner. Can they deliver is the ultimate question ... and I say yes! If you haven’t been paying attention since the season's restart, the Sixers are exuding more chemistry and camaraderie than Matisse Thybulle loaded down with a team’s worth of Popeye’s biscuits.

The Sixers are the sixth seed no one wants to face. The biggest reason isn’t Horford coming off the bench or Milton in the starting lineup. It’s not even a healthy Embiid. Simmons at the four has made him more free and able to roam, morphing into a pick-and-roll nightmare. His playmaking ability coupled with a group who can shoot and spread the floor is the team no one wants to face. I see the Sixers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Where they go from there will be the biggest test of their resolve to date, but undeniable progress for a team whose superstars are in their mid 20s.

Levick

The Sixers are highly talented and what seemingly every player on the roster has said about team chemistry having improved in the four-plus months since their last game shouldn’t be discounted, but they have issues that may plague them in the playoffs. We don’t know precisely what to expect with the Embiid-Horford pairing, since those two only played together for a little under four minutes in the Sixers’ first scrimmage before Embiid exited with a right calf injury. Still, it’s worrisome to consider that the Sixers have a minus-8.8 net rating with that duo on the floor since Dec. 1. Maybe elite defense will paper over the pre-hiatus problems we saw in the minutes when Horford and Embiid were together, or perhaps Brown will be ultra-frugal with the time those two share the court if things aren’t working.

The team’s bench is deeper than last year’s, though likely reliant on young players in Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz. In their first 65 games, the Sixers had little continuity or fluidity, and an offense that ranked 18th in the NBA. They’re healthier and better positioned to make a deep run than when the season shut down on March 11, but the path won’t be easy, regardless of seeding.

While there’s an especially wide range of possible outcomes with a team that has a brand-new starting lineup, was so brilliant at home and so perplexingly poor on the road, I’ll say the Sixers’ season ends with a six- or seven-game loss to the Bucks in the second round.  

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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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2020 NBA return: Wizards' Bradley Beal, Nets' Spencer Dinwiddie won't play in Disney World

2020 NBA return: Wizards' Bradley Beal, Nets' Spencer Dinwiddie won't play in Disney World

Less than a week after Pacers guard Victor Oladipo opted out of playing at Disney World, Wizards guard Bradley Beal and Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie will also sit out.

The two-time All-Star Beal has been dealing with a right rotator cuff injury and like Oladipo — who is still recovering from a gruesome quad injury suffered last year — has decided that rehabbing for the 2020-21 season is more important than heading to Disney. Beal’s teammate Davis Bertans, who will be a free agent in line for a big payday, has also decided to opt out.

The Wizards faced an uphill battle to qualify for the playoffs, even with Beal and Bertans. They trail the Magic by 5 ½ games for the eighth seed. While they needed to only get within four games to compete in a play-in tournament with Orlando, they only had eight seeding games to do so. Whoever captures the eighth seed will likely have to play the NBA-best Bucks in the first round.

Dinwiddie has been dealing with fairly severe symptoms of COVID-19 that he's been documenting on his Twitter page. The 27-year-old was hoping to get back on the court Tuesday, but Brooklyn's team doctors have decided to have Dinwiddie sit out the restart "out of an abundance of caution," per Shams Charania of The Athletic.

His teammate DeAndre Jordan also tested positive for coronavirus and opted out a little over a week ago. The Nets currently sit at seventh in the East.

For the Sixers, it means one of their opponents in the seeding games will be woefully shorthanded. They’re set to play Washington on Aug. 5. Beal averaged 31 points in two games against the Sixers this season. Bertans hit seven threes against the Sixers in a win in D.C. but struggled in a loss at Wells Fargo Center.

The Sixers finished their slate against the Nets season. Dinwiddie, who always seems to give the Sixers trouble, averaged 23.5 points in four games against them in 2019-20.

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