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NBA Daily: The Sixers Might Be in Trouble

After being humiliated on their home floor, Philadelphia needs to resolve some of its issues if it wants to avoid an upset, writes Matt John.

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Let’s be honest folks. The more drama we get during the NBA playoffs, the more enjoyable they become.

We would 100 times out of 100 prefer to see the underdog prevail over the favorite. That is, as long as the favorite in that scenario isn’t the team that we root for.

When the NBA playoffs turn out exactly like we expected, it can get boring, especially if the top dog wins it all with ease. It just makes it predictable which takes the fun out of it. When there’s a chance that we may see a twist in the bracket, suddenly we get much more emotionally invested because there’s a chance that things could get a little more interesting.

Game 1 is officially in the books for every first-round series in the NBA playoffs, and it goes without saying that we’ve already got our fair share of drama.

A fair amount of higher-seeded teams came up short in their first game against their lower-seeded opponents. Some were surprising while others were not so much

Orlando definitely shocked the world when it upstaged Toronto on its home floor in Game 1. It was even more shocking that the Magic, who hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2012, actually had a 16-point lead at one point on the second-seeded Raptors. Playoff struggles are nothing new to Toronto, but Orlando so far has shown that they’re more than just happy to be in the postseason.

San Antonio by contrast didn’t rally shock anyone when it beat Denver on the Nuggets’ home floor. That’s not necessarily a shot at the Nuggets. It’s just the Spurs have an edge both in Coach Pop and experience. Denver’s proven so much this season, but they won’t garner the respect they crave until they prove they can win a playoff series.

Then there’s Philadelphia.

The Nets not only beat the Sixers on their home floor on Saturday. They handled their division rivals with ease. It got so bad that fans were booing their team by the end of the first half. It didn’t get better from there.

With the exception of Jimmy Butler and Boban Marjanovic, the Sixers put up an all-around stinker in their 2019 playoff debut. Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and JJ Redick all combined for 18 points on 8-for-23 shooting from the field. Butler and Embiid did what they could, but the Nets, in their first playoff action since 2015, flat out out-classed the Sixers.

First defense for them getting booed off the court by their fans on Saturday: Embiid was coming off an injury and clearly lacked the conditioning to play in a playoff game.

Second defense: The Nets were going to be a tough matchup for any of the top competitors in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers just had the worst luck of the draw.

It also doesn’t help that Philly’s worst possible flaw among others is their inability to stop quality point guards. As it stands, Brooklyn has two of them with D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie. Both of them had little difficulty exploiting the Sixers’ Achilles heel, combining for 44 points at a high clip.

Alas, Philly’s issues go deeper than just matchups. Brooklyn copied a lot of the same strategy that Boston used to stop the Sixers in last year’s postseason. Those strategies included:

  • Easing off Ben Simmons: Fans can choose to stay optimistic about Simmons developing a jumper, but currently, the guy doesn’t have one. Until he has one, teams will continue to sag off him which makes his role on offense much more limited. The Celtics exposed this last year which made the offense stagnate to which Simmons still has yet to adjust accordingly.
  • Targeting JJ Redick: Redick was a good defender once upon a time and does his best. At age 34, he just isn’t physically capable of staying in front of young and quick guards anymore. D’Angelo Russell took pleasure in beating Redick again and again to the point that he waived JJ goodbye after the Sixer had fouled out in a foiled attempt to contain D-Lo. If JJ’s not making shots to compensate on the other end – which he most certainly didn’t the other night – then he’s borderline useless.
  • Make Embiid shoot threes: Embiid certainly shoots a fair percentage of threes – 4.1 per game this season – but he’s far from a specialist, shooting 30 percent from distance. Brooklyn didn’t do much to stop Joel in the post, but they did enough to make him shoot from the perimeter, where he finished 0-for-5. Embiid’s one of the biggest juggernauts in the league in just his fifth season, but Brooklyn will gladly let him shoot threes over potentially forcing him to the free throw line.

There are some silver linings though. Brooklyn made 11 three-pointers and shot 42 percent from three as opposed to Philadelphia who made only three three-pointers and shot 12 percent from three. The odds of those percentages being slanted so blatantly in the Nets’ favor is very unlikely.

Also, there’s no way Harris should be limited to only seven shots in a game. Harris is the best dual floor spacer/scorer that the Sixers have. In a series where teams will take advantage of Simmons’ lack of shooting, Harris needs to take the reins of the offense. It’s hard to find touches in Philly’s offense, but when Jimmy Butler is going off, Harris needs to be there to keep the defense on its heels.

The one X-Factor ties back to Embiid’s health. When he had stamina, Embiid was drawing fouls left and right on the Nets. That didn’t last long since he’s been dealing with this mysterious knee injury. If his health improves from here, then there’s no way we’ll see a repeat performance from Philly.

If not, then there could be a lot of implications for this series as a whole from Game 1 alone.

Insert the “It’s only one game” retort here. It’s true that the postseason is still young and players as well as coaches do make the proper adjustments so that they’ll be more prepared for the next game. Especially after they’ve lost their first game.

There will be plenty more basketball for the next week between these two teams. It’s possible that in that time, all of talk about trouble will look foolish by then if Philly is able to erase its flaws and get past Brooklyn.

The Sixers should be due for a rebound game tonight. However, the Nets have clearly demonstrated from the start that they are not messing around. If Philly is going to win this series, they may have to win ugly.

If this series drags on, then the Sixers may have more to worry about than beating the Nets.

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

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