Is This the Year the Sixers Break Through Their Past Postseason Struggles?

Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) and center Joel Embiid (21) high five after a score against the Memphis Grizzlies during the fourth quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers have consistently been one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference over the last few seasons. However, each year they fell short in the postseason, failing to get past the second round of the playoffs. Will this season be different or are they doomed to repeat another early playoff exit?

This year’s team has the tools necessary to break through their past postseason struggles. Joel Embiid, the betting favorite for MVP, is playing at an extremely high level. He led the league in scoring for the second consecutive season, averaging 33.1 points per game while shooting a career-high 54.8% from the field. There is no defense in the league capable of stopping him from dominating on a nightly basis. The big fella also makes a big impact defensively whether through blocks or otherwise impacting what teams are willing to do around the paint.

The Sixers are also equipped with a Robin to Embiid’s Batman. James Harden put together a great season, leading the league in assists with 10.7 per game. He also continued to score at a high level, averaging 21 points per game while shooting 38.5% from long distance. His 3-point percentage was the highest it has been since back in the 2011-12 season when he was on the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Harden-Embiid pick-and-roll is nearly unstoppable, and it has helped the Sixers become one of the league’s elite offenses. The Sixers are one of just three teams in the league to finish the season inside the top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating. Powered by the Embiid-Harden duo, the Sixers ended the season third in offensive rating (117). The team can pick apart opposing defenses in a variety of ways. They have proven capable of attacking out of the pick-and-roll, mid-range, isolation or from 3-point range.

In addition to both Embiid and Harden, the Sixers also possess a solid supporting cast led by Tyrese Maxey. The 22-year-old averaged 20.3 points per game this season while being one of the top outside shooters in the league. He finished fifth in 3-point percentage, shooting 43.4% from long distance on 6.2 attempts per game. Their bench is also improved from prior seasons, with De’Anthony Melton, Jalen McDaniels and Paul Reed all able to give the team solid minutes.

This Sixers team has all the ingredients to successfully compete for a championship. However, nothing is guaranteed and the road to the title is paved with obstacles. Harden is battling through a sore Achilles that has hampered his play in the final few weeks of the regular season. He told reporters in late March he does not think the injury “will completely go away.” Harden’s ability to play like he did for much of the season will go a long way towards determining the final outcome of the Sixers’ season.

Their path through the playoffs is also going to present a myriad of challenges. They should, on paper, be able to handle the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs. Things pick up in a big way after that. The Sixers are arguably the third best team in the league. Unfortunately, the top two teams, the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks, both also reside in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics have the Sixers’ number, winning three out of four matchups this season. The Sixers’ path to the NBA Finals will likely involve going through both Boston and Milwaukee.

This is the most complete team the Sixers put on the floor since the 2018-19 season when they lost in the second round to the Toronto Raptors. However, their road to the NBA Finals is perhaps the most difficult it has been in recent years. Even still, this year could be when the Sixers are able to break through their prior postseason struggles. Despite the difficult path ahead, the Sixers have all the pieces to be able to compete for a championship. Fasten your seatbelts, this is about to be a wild ride.