Six Things That Need To Happen For The Sixers To Win The Championship
It’s almost go time. Here’s how they can get it done.
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With six games left in the regular season, the Sixers need to win four more times (at most) to guarantee the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The rest of the way is pretty much a cakewalk, and Brooklyn may even drop an additional game or two.
Since the rest of the season is basically a formality, and I think it’s about time we start looking ahead to the playoffs. Here in this piece, I’ll outline six things that need to happen (excluding health) in order for the Sixers to succeed in the postseason.
As I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, seeding is the obvious variable that will play an enormous role in how far the Sixers end up making it. At this exact moment, the seeding couldn’t possibly be breaking better for the Sixers. They would get one of Miami/Charlotte/Indiana/Washington in round one, and the winner of New York and Atlanta in round two. While the Sixers dismantle the Knicks or Hawks, the Bucks and Nets will be battling it out to the death.
Getting to likely avoid both Boston and Miami, as well as one of Milwaukee or Brooklyn, would make a finals berth a hell of a lot more likely.
Ben Simmons needs to have 3-4 quality offensive performances in each series
Simmons has had a year defined by inconsistency, and based on his track record from prior years, I’m expecting that inconsistency to continue into the playoffs. The question for Simmons is not whether or not his offensive production will decline in the playoffs, but how much. The frequency with which Simmons can have productive offensive games is probably the single biggest determinant of how far the Sixers make it.
My unscientific estimate: I think if Simmons can churn out 3-4 performances per series that resemble a quality regular season performance, they have a chance to beat anyone. On the contrary, if he only produces one quality offensive performance out of seven games, like he did against Toronto in 2019, the championship dream is toast.
This may sound like a low bar, but it’s the reality of his game -- he will always be less valuable in a slow, tight playoff game than a run and gun regular season game. If you’re looking for Simmons to average 18 points per game against the Bucks, it’s not going to happen. But if he can provide that type of performance for three or four out of seven games, you’re being more realistic.
Danny Green can’t go cold
Out of all the Sixers’ role players, Danny Green is the one who the Sixers can least afford to suffer a prolonged cold streak in the playoffs. Seth Curry, for example, could go cold, and the Sixers could have Shake Milton and George Hill eat heavily into his minutes. But with how valuable Green’s defense is, the Sixers don’t have a player who can come off the bench and approximate his impact on both ends.
Matisse Thybulle can replace all of Green’s defense, but none of his offense. Furkan Korkmaz can replicate all of Green’s offense, but none of his defense. George Hill can supply ~80% of both ends, but none of them can fully replace him.
Unless a Green cold streak is accompanied by a Matisse Thybulle hot streak, it’s a death sentence. Having to stitch together some of Green’s minutes between the trio of Thybulle, Hill, and Korkmaz is just suboptimal.
Dwight Howard can’t get played off the floor
Pretty much all season long, fans and media alike have brought up how beneficial it would be for the Sixers to have an additional backup center with an alternative skill set to Dwight Howard’s. The trade deadline and buyout market have come and gone, and Howard is the only center on the Sixers’ bench.
Howard has been playing excellent for most of the season, and matchup-wise, I don’t foresee any Eastern Conference team being able to make him useless. But in the event that another team unlocks some small ball lineup that makes Howard obsolete, the Sixers will be in dire straits. It would create a situation similar to the 2019 Raptors series, where the Sixers are forced to consider playing Embiid 42 minutes per game, and run him into the ground.
If, say, the Nets are able to pick and pop Howard to death with a Kevin Durant at center lineup, the Sixers will have no clear option to rebuttal with. Play Mike Scott at center? Ben Simmons? Increase Embiid’s minutes?
Small ball fives aren’t the only potential Howard danger. It’s not hard to imagine Giannis Antetokounmpo scoring or drawing fouls on him at will, making him useless. Again, I think it’s likely that Howard is able to provide a rock solid 8-10 minutes per game in those types of series, but it’s certainly on the table that he could get played off the floor.
Shake Milton can’t disappear for 2-3 games
Milton, like Simmons, has had an extremely inconsistent season. There are games where Milton looks like the team’s second best offensive player, and there are games where Milton is practically unplayable. With the degree to which the Sixers will need half court shot creation against elite teams, Milton disappearing for multiple games is a nightmare scenario.
If the Sixers want to beat the Bucks or Nets, they have to get the version of Milton who can shoulder a heavy offensive load when Harris and Embiid are on the bench. Sure, Hill and even Tyrese Maxey could fill some of the void from a Milton cold streak, but with all three players at their best, Milton is in another class as a shot creator. The Sixers desperately need that version of him to show up in a playoff series.
Matisse Thybulle has to legitimately frustrate opposing stars
As much as Thybulle’s jump shot is an X-factor, I’m even more focused on him consistently being a game wrecker defensively. While Thybulle’s offense certainly contributed to him being cut from the rotation by the end of last year’s Celtics series, the real deal breaker was that Thybulle just wasn’t all that effective against Jayson Tatum. In a series where the Sixers were missing Simmons, they were desperate for someone to provide elite wing defense, and Thybulle couldn’t do it.
For that reason, I view Thybulle’s defense as the real X-factor in him being a factor in the playoffs. Will he be merely good, or have his usual lockdown-type impact? If Thybulle can make Kyrie Irving constantly uncomfortable, he will find a spot in the rotation regardless of what his offense looks like. If Irving is able to score on him at roughly the same rate as Hill, Milton, or Green, I struggle to see how he plays big minutes.