The 2023 NBA playoffs have put the Philadelphia 76ers in familiar territory: facing the scrappy, sixth-seeded Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs. The Sixers and Nets will kick off the first round of the playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on the afternoon of April 15 in what Philly hopes is the beginning of something special. A lot is going right for the team leading up to the opening playoff series.
Joel Embiid is perhaps the best player in the league right now and is armed with a fantastic table-setter in James Harden and a solid supporting cast. This is the Sixers’ best chance to win a championship with Embiid since the Jimmy Butler year. That year’s postseason also started with a matchup against an underdog Nets team. Just like in that series, the Sixers should come out on top without breaking much of a sweat.
The Sixers will beat the Nets in no more than five games in the first round of the 2023 NBA playoffs. Here are the three biggest reasons why.
3. The new-look Nets are still figuring things out
Brooklyn should be proud of what it accomplished following a nuclear meltdown at the trade deadline. Mikal Bridges is a legitimate star, Nic Claxton has emerged as one of the best defenders in the league, Jacque Vaughn has done a very respectable job with the disastrously bad hand he was dealt and the front office has the young prospects and draft picks to rebuild again.
However, the Nets’ rankings in several categories following the All-Star break indicate that they are not as legitimate of a threat as their sixth-seed finish suggests. They posted an 11-13 record to end the season and ranked 19th in net rating, narrowly beating out the flailing Dallas Mavericks, while Philly is fifth. Their defensive rating is 13th (better than the Sixers at 17th, for what it’s worth) but their offense is 24th while the Sixers tied in third place.
Bridges has blossomed into a very good leading scorer but aside from him and Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn’s options for offensive creation are slim. Bucket-getters Cam Thomas, Joe Harris and Seth Curry can be played off the court at a moment’s notice. Unless they shoot the lights out, how are they keeping up with one of the best offenses in the NBA? Dinwiddie has been an assist machine with Brooklyn this season but will he command enough attention from the defense to continue being one?
Defensively, they can make Embiid’s life tough by sending their array of switchable wing defenders at him. But that can only take them so far. Making life hard for Embiid doesn’t guarantee victory, nor is it remotely as simple as it sounds. It only takes one of Harden or Tyrese Maxey getting into a groove alongside him to bash Brooklyn’s defense repeatedly.
Over the course of a full season, the Nets as currently constructed would most likely land in play-in territory. Again, that’s a perfectly respectable outcome for a roster that was put together so hastily. But in a series against one of the better teams in the league, it most likely won’t be enough to advance.
2. Philly’s past playoff woes seem to be behind them
Years of playoff embarrassment leave a stench that the Sixers are eager to wash away. They have found lots of ways to lose in the postseason. Many of those past issues —namely a complete inability to tread water without Embiid, injuries and depth problems — aren’t as applicable to this Sixers squad.
The most important thing is that the Sixers are healthy. That can change in the playoffs (just as it did for Embiid last year) but at the moment, they appear to be all good. They aren’t 100 percent healthy — few players are at this time of the season — and Harden’s lingering Achilles issue is absolutely something to monitor. But the fact that he still managed to look good even with the injury is certainly a positive.
While the reliability of Embiid’s co-star is also an issue still in need of addressing, Harden should be better than he was last year and able to contribute more than Ben Simmons. He closed last season’s playoffs on a sour note but now is healthier and has more chemistry with the team around him. His playoff reliability is still under question but with his partnership with Embiid and newfound catch-and-shoot three-ball that gives him off-ball value, this seems like his best year to answer the call.
The Sixers have shown an ability to come back from big deficits time and time again, shoot the ball very well from behind the arc and at the stripe and have enough defensive playmakers to get by. Their roster and style of play are imperfect, sure, but there doesn’t seem to be one obvious flaw that will lead to their downfall against the Nets.
1. The Sixers have Joel Embiid
“We have a Hulk.” — Tony Stark, The Avengers (2012)
In any scenario other than the worst-case one for the Sixers, Embiid will be far and away the best player in this series. Advantages like that will make it tough for any opponent, especially one thrown together on the fly like this, to win.
Embiid has answers for everything a defense can throw at him. If the Nets trust Claxton to hold up with Embiid on an island, they run the risk of the Sixers superstar just going to town with his endless bag of moves. Claxton’s length and quickness are impressive but Embiid can use his size advantage to shoot over him or power through him. Putting a smaller defender on him and letting Claxton roam off the ball runs that same risk.
Forcing the ball out of Embiid’s hands will give the Sixers’ impressive collection of shooters more room to fire away. Perhaps those shooters don’t come through but as long as it’s a close game in the fourth quarter, Philly can count on Embiid to drag the team to victory by making clutch buckets and stops.
Without the rare defender who has the size, dexterity and smarts to make Embiid work hard (think of Brook Lopez or Jaren Jackson Jr.), it will be extremely tough for the Nets to contain him. Such a problem is why the Sixers are favored to advance past the Nets in the 2023 NBA playoffs.
The post 3 reasons why the Sixers will beat the Nets in 2023 NBA Playoffs appeared first on ClutchPoints.