Nine Bold Predictions For The Sixers In The Playoffs
WHO will hit a game winner?
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The playoffs are finally here. Starting on Sunday, the Sixers will take on the Washington Wizards in the 1 vs. 8 matchup, which they hope will be the beginning of a championship run. Any number of things could happen in these playoffs, but lucky for you, I have sifted through all of the possibilities to come up with nine bold predictions for what will happen. Let’s get into what I’m expecting from this playoff run.
The Sixers go down 2-1 in either the first or second round
This prediction has nothing to do with how I feel about the Sixers’ ultimate fate, but rather has to do with the fact that I think they have been sleepwalking through the final 20 or so games of the season, and one of these teams is going to wake them up.
This isn’t necessarily the Sixers’ fault -- it’s just that they’ve hardly been pushed over the past several weeks. It’s felt like every game in the final third of the season has been against either a tanking team or a team missing multiple starters. The Sixers have fallen into some bad habits, and they’re going to get a scare put into them as a result of that.
Last week’s blowout loss in Miami was, I think, a symptom of this problem -- they came into the game half awake, having won eight of nine against a pupu platter of tanking and/or injured opponents, and Miami came in operating in full-on playoff mode. The intensity differential in that game was palpable. The Sixers went from facing a bunch of knuckleball pitchers to seeing 100mph fastballs, and they weren’t ready for it.
So, I think that they both need and will get a wakeup call in one of these first two rounds. There’s a strong chance that they’re able to bulldoze the Wizards while maintaining their half-awake status, but I could easily see the Knicks’ defensive intensity giving them problems in the early stage of that series. I don’t have any doubt that they’ll ultimately dispose of their opponents in the first two rounds, but I do think they’ll take a good, hard punch in the mouth.
The Sixers retain a 10 or 11-man rotation throughout the entire playoffs
For the past few weeks I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out who will make the 7-9 man playoff rotation. And I’ve now come to the conclusion that there will be no 7-9 man rotation. Doc Rivers will keep the rotation deep and ride whatever hot hands he sees fit in any given game.
When I really thought about it, I couldn’t imagine any of Shake Milton, George Hill, Matisse Thybulle, or Furkan Korkmaz getting entirely cut from the rotation. Sure, one or two of them will likely outpace the rest in minutes, but I envision Rivers keeping the rotation long and having the minutes distribution between those four guys fluctuate wildly based on gut feel. He’s going to be toying with things on the fly until the very end -- and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I could easily see Rivers turning to Tyrese Maxey, as well, equaling an 11 man rotation. With how well Maxey has played lately, I don’t think Rivers will have any fear of turning to him if Milton looks stale in any given game.
If you’re interested in a deeper dive on how the rotation could change from one series to the next, I wrote a piece last week on that very topic.
Danny Green hits a game winner
This one is just a gut feel. I think out of every player on the roster besides Embiid, Green has the most comfort and swagger in clutch situations. He’s even bailed the Sixers out in crunch time multiple times this season.
In Game 3 against the Nets in the Conference Finals, the Sixers will look to post up Embiid on the final possession, the ball will swing to Green, and he’ll hit a game winning three. Book it.
Dwight Howard gets an opposing star ejected
Is this even a bold prediction? It feels like a given that Howard gets into a scuffle with some role player (lets call him Nerlens Noel), and a star (let’s call him Julius Randle) jumps in a little too brazenly and gets himself tossed, a la Jared Dudley and Jimmy Butler. Howard is an elite agitator, and he doesn’t back down from anyone. He’ll piss somebody off enough to get them to do something stupid and get themselves ejected.
Ben Simmons has far and away his best playoffs to date
The teams that have been able to take Ben Simmons down a notch in the playoffs have been teams with absolutely elite defenses -- like the Celtics, who had the league’s 2nd best defense in 2018, and the Raptors, who had the league’s 5th best defense in 2019. What we haven’t seen is teams like Nets in 2019, who had the league’s 15th ranked defense, being able to take him out of a game.
And because this year’s playoff path is likely to feature at least a couple of teams that are mediocre defenses, I’m expecting big things out of Ben Simmons. If the Sixers’ path goes Wizards, Hawks, Nets, for example, they’d be facing the league’s 20th, 18th, and 22nd ranked defenses, respectively. Without teams having the size and discipline to match up with Simmons, he’ll be able to go on his usual rampages in transition.
It is possible, of course, that their path looks far different from that. If they face the Knicks and Bucks, for example, this prediction looks a little less likely. Still; I think Simmons will come in extra motivated after missing the playoffs last year, and is in store for a strong postseason.
Seth Curry becomes a scapegoat
I am just not all that confident in Curry’s ability to maintain a high level of impact after the first round. I think he’ll get targeted on defense, he’ll struggle to get anywhere with the ball in his hands on offense, and with his hesitancy to shoot against tight contests, a defense operating at full tilt could potentially take him out of a game.
Moreover, I think that Doc Rivers won’t hesitate to play the likes of Shake Milton and/or George Hill over him. I could easily see Curry having a bad game or two, losing some of his minutes, losing some of his confidence, putting up some bad performances, and becoming a scapegoat.
Maxey wins a playoff game
There will be a game that we look at as The Tyrese Maxey Game. The Sixers will be down nine late in the third against the Knicks and Rivers will give Maxey a run, and he’ll ignite them on a comeback that ends in a Sixers win. Going against a tight defense like the Knicks, the Sixers will lean on Maxey a bit more than they probably should, but he’ll deliver.
It’ll be a massive cause for celebration, however, the karmic forces of the universe will balance out, because...
A Former Sixer will steal a playoff game
Take a look through the Sixers’ potential paths, and you will find former Sixers left and right -- including many who are the type to steal a game in ridiculous fashion.
This list includes but is not limited to: Ish Smith, Raul Neto, Lou Williams, Alec Burks, Landry Shamet, and Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot. One of those six guys is essentially guaranteed to steal a game. Burks may even get hot for multiple games -- perhaps he’ll be the reason they go down 2-1.
The Sixers lose to the Nets in six games in the Conference Finals
I like the way that the Sixers match up with the Nets. They have the perimeter defenders to match up with the Nets’ stars, they have a player (Embiid) who the Nets won’t be able to guard, and Simmons’ deficiencies won’t be exploited as much as they would against better defensive teams.
All that being said, the talent deficit here is just too big. If healthy, Durant, Harden, and Irving are just too devastating of an offensive combination to overcome. I think that the Sixers will bow out with a respectable and hard fought six game series.