STP Staff Predictions: First Round Series Between Sixers, Raptors

The Philadelphia 76ers are taking on the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs this season. The series begins tonight at 6:00 PM. The series will certainly be tough due to the Raptors matching up well against the Sixers. Find out if our contributors think the Sixers will be able to make it past the Raptors and move on to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

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Here They Come But Where Are They Going? Previewing The First Round

By Michael Doctorovitz, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The playoffs are here and the matchup is set. The Philadelphia 76ers will face off against the Toronto Raptors in the first round with game one on Saturday, April 16, at 6pm. The Sixers will be favored heading into this series, given that they have the best player in the series, Joel Embiid, and also home court advantage, but don't let that fool you, this will be a tough matchup. The Sixers lost the season series to the Raptors 3-1 and will face some major challenges going into this.

The first major challenge they face is going to be on the defensive end. With their best wing defender, Matisse Thybulle, not available to play in Canada due to vaccination restrictions the Sixers will struggle to defend shooters from the outside. This is where they will need Danny Green to be vintage and step up big time in Thybulle's absence but with Green's age and the Raptors' youth, it could be overwhelming.

The shooting of James Harden has also caused a lot of concern around the Sixers lately. The media has been sure to bring this up in recent weeks, especially Stephen A Smith. Smith has been on record multiple times in the past couple weeks saying that Harden is under the most pressure in these playoffs and that President of Basketball Operations, Daryl Morey's, job could be on the line along with head coach Doc Rivers. Most recently, this morning former NBA player, Tim Legler, said that if Harden shoots under 50% in any of these games then the Sixers will be upset by the Raptors. 

On the other hand, hall of famer Shaquille O'Neal said on Sunday night that the Sixers will sweep the Raptors. 

This will be an interesting series and one that could give Sixers fans a bit of deja vu. The last time the Sixers and Raptors faced off in the playoffs was in 2019 when Kawhi Leonard broke the hearts of Sixers fans everywhere with a shot that still haunts them to this day. This is a different Sixers team though. 

In 2019, the Sixers were constructed with a bit more shooting and of course superstar Jimmy Butler who is now a member of the #1 seed Miami Heat. This current team though has a much better version of Embiid. Embiid has been amazing this season, becoming the first center to lead the league in scoring since Shaq in 1999-2000. Embiid scored at a historic pace this season, averaging 30.6 ppg in 33.8 mpg. Unfortunately that might not be enough for MVP honors, which just feels wrong but there is nothing he can do about it now. 

To win this series, the Sixers will need Rivers to outcoach Nick Nurse, head coach for the Raptors, and they will also need to execute much better on the offensive end. The Raptors will attack Embiid with double and triple teams and will send lengthy defenders his way as well as Harden's. This is where they will need the bench to step up more than it has in the regular season. To close out the regular season, Shake Milton scored 30 points off the bench in 32 minutes. He will not see that much time in the series nor will he need to score 30 but he will need to produce in the minutes given to him in order for the Sixers to advance into the next round. 

Buckle up. This will be stressful. 


Time For A Break: Looking Ahead To The Second Half

 

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By Michael Doctorovitz, Sports Talk Philly 76ers Staff Writer

The All-Star break is here. After 58 games so far this season, the Philadelphia 76ers are 35-23 and are currently the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference. The first half of this season has been a roller coaster ride but the Sixers have played well through all the drama and thanks to MVP frontrunner Joel Embiid, the team is in a good position heading into the second half. 

Keep in mind that help is on the way. That's right, in case you forgot newly acquired former MVP and 10 time All-Star, James Harden, has yet to play but is targeting a post break debut for his new team. Before we get too carried away let's remember that Harden will have to gel with this team and there are only 24 games remaining before the postseason. So what can we expect for the second half of the season?

Well for starters we can expect some good competition as we get our Embiid-Harden experiment underway. The Sixers still have to play the Phoenix Suns one more time, the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks once more, the upstart Chicago Bulls one more time and the current #1 seed in the east, the Miami Heat, twice more. They will also face the Cleveland Cavaliers three more times and the Dallas Mavericks one more time. The good news for the Sixers heading into those games though: Embiid has not slowed down.

Even in the All-Star game, Embiid put his talent on display going off for 36 points and 10 rebounds in 31 minutes of play. It is just the All-Star game but it shows that, currently, Embiid shows no signs of slowing down. 

The Sixers and Embiid needed this break though. Embiid has been nursing a right wrist injury and Harden still has been nursing his left hamstring tightness. The team does not play again until Thursday and all signs are pointing up. Embiid played in the All-Star game with no tape around his wrist, but we shall see if that continues, and Harden has made it clear that he feels good and he has been eager to get out there. 

Looking forward to the second half, it will be interesting to see how Harden meshes with his new teammates and vice versa. There have been stories in the past that Harden is a bad leader and bad teammate. Someone who is passive aggressive and points the blame elsewhere and can sometimes be a bully. So far we have seen none of that. Reports have come out that Harden has stayed later at practice to get shots up, he was seen on the sidelines coaching up Tyrese Maxey and Georges Niang during the Sixers' most recent win against the Bucks and in his introductory press conference he was very open and praised Maxey's work ethic. Sounds like a good teammate but time will tell.

 

Whatever happens after the break it will be interesting. Every Sixers fan will be on the edge of their seat to see if Daryl Morey made the right move and made the team title contenders or if he gave up too much for an aging superstar and set the team back a few years. It will take time to gel but all signs point toward an exciting second half of the season. Harden will bring more flow and versatility to the offense and can be a sneaky good defender at times. Morey also says the Sixers already have their eye on somebody in the buyout market but it obviously cannot be announced yet due to the leagues tampering rules.

 

Buckle up Sixers fans. This is going to be a wild ride to the postseason and one that could possibly lead to the first NBA championship in Philadelphia since 1983. 


The Deal Is Done. Simmons Is Gone. What Now?

By Michael Doctorovitz, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

It has finally been done. After almost nine months of trade rumors and trash talk, overreactions and standstills, the Philadelphia 76ers have finally traded disgruntled point guard Ben Simmons. The Sixers and Brooklyn Nets pulled off a superstar swap that includes former MVP, James Harden, joining current MVP frontrunner, Joel Embiid in Philly. This trade comes at a very crucial time and just two days after a tough 114-109 loss at the hands of the league best, Phoenix Suns.

After that loss, head coach Doc Rivers was quick to tell the media "we have no choice, we need to get another guard." Well, ask and you shall receive Doc. The Sixers bring in Harden who, although is having a "down year" according to some, will be able to make an immediate impact offensively. It was also reported that the team was shopping forward Tobias Harris but kept him through the deadline. Harris has been playing his best ball lately. In the last five games, Harris is averaging 23 points and 6.4 rebounds on a very efficient 60.4% from the field. 

This trade puts the Sixers in an immediate "win now" situation. Whenever you put two MVP caliber players together in today's NBA, the expectation is to win right away. With Embiid entering his prime and playing unbelievable this season, without a co-star not to mention, the time for the Sixers to strike is now. The Eastern Conference this season is wide open and there has been no clear cut favorite. With that being said, adding Harden to a team that is currently 13-6 since January 1st, brings the Sixers much closer to their goals. Harden has not won a championship yet in his illustrious career but has been to the finals once before on a young, up and coming Oklahoma City Thunder squad that included himself alongside Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. 

The biggest steal for the Sixers in this deal is that they were able to hold onto to rising star Tyrese Maxey and lockdown wing defender Matisse Thybulle. In the deal, the Sixers gave up sharpshooter, Seth Curry, and backup big man Andre Drummond alongside Simmons and a 2022 unprotected first round pick, with the right to defer until 2023, and a 2027 first round pick protected 1-8.

Many have already called this a terrible move and possibly the worst move of Daryl Morey's career. Others in the media believe that Morey just showed his genius in waiting for the right trade package for Simmons instead of giving him up for nothing. Who's right in this scenario? Well let's look at the facts.

Harden will be absolutely masterful in the pick and roll with Embiid, better than Simmons ever could have been due of his lack of shooting. Embiid has not played with someone this versatile in the pick and roll since the team had, now Miami Heat guard, Jimmy Butler in 2019. Harden is a step above Butler though. Harden is a better facilitator than both Butler and Simmons, although Simmons is a great passer himself but defenses could lay off of him and clog passing lanes. Harden is also a better shooter than both Butler and, obviously, Simmons which will open up spacing for Embiid to own the paint. Harden also has the ability to play off the ball much better than Simmons ever could which will give him a rest from ball handling at times and allow Maxey to flourish as he has been doing all season long. 

So what are the Sixers now and what are they moving forward towards the playoffs? Before the trade, Vegas oddsmakers had the Sixers at +1200 to win the NBA title. Those odds have now shifted to +750, which is the biggest shift for any team post trade deadline. The Nets however did also improve. Simmons will be a good facilitator and defender for a team that already has Durant and superstar Kyrie Irving, similar to a Draymond Green role for the Golden State Warriors. This puts the Nets at +140 to win the Eastern Conference and the Sixers at +475, according to Vegas oddsmakers. 

This trade is groundbreaking for the Sixers. It does not make them the clear favorite but it does increase their odds and bring some serious interest in what they could do moving forward. Harden is the best guard on a Sixers team since Allen Iverson and has already opted into his $47.3 million player option for next season as part of the deal. This puts the Sixers in a position where it feels like championship or bust. If all players stay healthy, the Sixers are looking at a starting lineup of: Harden, Maxey, Thybulle, Harris and Embiid with players like Danny Green, Furkan Korkmaz, Georges Niang and Shake Milton coming off the bench. The Sixers and Nets play at the Wells Fargo Center one month from today, March 10 at 7:30, in what could be one of the most drama filled games of all time. 


One Week Before the Trade Deadline: A Breakdown of Trade Scenarios and The Ben Simmons Drama

By Michael Doctorovitz, Sports Talk Philly Staff

It has now been almost eight months since the Philadelphia 76ers got sent home by Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi Finals. Almost eight months since Doc Rivers and Joel Embiid finally criticized Ben Simmons for his passive play and his fear of shooting and yet there has been no progress made. Simmons is still on the team, wasting a roster spot and refusing to play. According to people in Simmons' camp, he still watches the Sixers play every game and he still wants to play, just not in Philadelphia. 

After holding the Sixers back for, at least, two playoff runs, Simmons now is holding himself and the organization back form trading him. He has yet to play and continues to practice away from the team. After being caught practicing in nearby high schools and University gymnasiums, Simmons has begun to practice at the Sixers training facility located in Camden, New Jersey. He has done nothing to help the Sixers trade him and members of the sports media have begun to grow almost as frustrated as fans.

Early last week on ESPN's NBA Countdown, Stephen A Smith pointed the finger at Simmons and Sixers owner Josh Harris saying that Harris has Daryl Morey "handcuffed" from pulling the trigger on a Simmons trade. Also last week on Inside The NBA on TNT, Hall of Fame center Shaquille O'Neal called Simmons out for being "soft" saying that Simmons cannot take criticism like his teammate Embiid without being a "crybaby." Shaq also added that he does not respect Simmons for sitting out a full season just because he was criticized by his coach and MVP frontrunner teammate in which Simmons, according to Shaq, sent him a direct message on Instagram saying he was mad about the comments. 

So, what can the Sixers do about all of this? They can hold off until the offseason for James Harden, which seems to be the option Morey is leaning towards, or they can make a trade now. Keeping Tyrese Maxey, who was just named to the NBA Rising Stars Challenge, and top wing defender Matisse Thybulle out of trade offers is something the Sixers have made clear they will do but where do they go from there? How do you trade a disgruntled superstar who has not played and will not play anytime soon? The answer: finding another disgruntled superstar.

It has been reported this week that Washington Wizards superstar shooting guard, Bradley Beal, has not rejected the idea of playing elsewhere for the first time in a long time. It is reported that his preference is to stay with the Wizards but if the Sixers were to make an offer, Beal would finally be in more of a winning situation and Simmons would finally get out of Philadelphia. Beal has been on the Sixers radar for a couple of season now and there is no better time to strike than right now. 

The Sixers have exactly one week from today to make a move. Once 3:00 PM hits on February 10, the Sixers will be stuck with Simmons for the remainder of the season and he has made it clear multiple times that he will not play for them again, even though Morey and other in the Sixers front office say that they hope he will return to the team. 

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Should The Sixers Trade Tyrese Maxey?

The Philadelphia 76ers continue to deal with the Ben Simmons drama to the best of their ability but have been getting no help from Simmons and his team. With ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reporting that the Sacramento Kings are no longer interested in the Simmons sweepstakes, that leaves one trade favorite, the Brooklyn Nets. After it was reported last week that superstar guard James Harden was frustrated and open to playing elsewhere, the Sixers have been connected and apparently have offered a rising star for Harden.

Rumors have been swirling all week, with the anticipated trade deadline creeping up quickly, and the Sixers have been involved in multiple. The most popular rumor came out on Friday afternoon,  that the Sixers have offered Simmons and young star Tyrese Maxey for Harden. The Sixers have been on fire lately, winning 13 of their last 16 games, and playing their best ball of the season. Obviously, that has a lot to do with the amazing play of Joel Embiid, who has scored 25+ points in 16 straight games and was just announced as an All-Star starter for the fifth straight season. Embiid has had help though, mainly from Maxey and Tobias Harris. 

Maxey has taken a big leap so far in his second season. His season averages are now up to 16.5 points, 4.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game on 46.3% shooting per contest. A big step up from his numbers last year, especially in scoring now that he is the second option with Simmons out of the rotation.  Trading the young star would almost guarantee the Sixers a top, superstar player back, which is what they are looking for, but giving up the 21 year old Maxey may be too high of an asking price.

Maxey, 21, has emerged as a solid second option in the Sixers offense and will only continue to improve as he gets more NBA experience and has formed great chemistry with Embiid. Harden, who will be 33 this August, is on a bit of a decline. Even on a decline though, Harden is still averaging 23 points, 8.1 rebounds and 10.1 assists on 42% shooting, his lowest mark since his rookie year. A pick and roll offense with Embiid and Harden would immediately be a top duo in the league and would turn the Sixers into immediate championship contenders but keeping Maxey and allowing him to develop into the second option for Embiid could attract talent to come to Philadelphia through free agency and they could still make a run at Harden this summer. 

The possibilities are endless for the trade deadline and the rumors will continue to swirl even after the deadline. As long as Simmons stays on the Sixers, there will be trade rumors following. Making a run at Harden seems to be the team's favorite option and could happen this offseason when, hopefully, they have more leverage to trade Simmons but until anything happens, anything seems possible. 

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Deep Playoff Run or Play-In Tournament Exit? What Is In Store For The Sixers?

By Michael Doctorovitz, Sports Talk Philly Staff

Starting on Tuesday, January 25th, the Philadelphia 76ers will begin a five game homestand. The team currently sits at sixth in the Eastern Conference but is only 2.5 games out of the top spot. How did they get here? How far can they go? What can they do to improve? How important is this homestand as they try to avoid the single elimination play-in tournament?

The Sixers started this season off slow, picking things up towards the end of December and continuing that momentum into the new calendar year. They are currently 8-3 in January and are facing a five game homestand a week before the highly anticipated trade deadline. The toughest matchup during this homestand will be on Monday, January 31, vs the 32-17 Memphis Grizzlies and perennial All-Star Ja Morant

The question remains: Can the Sixers make a deep playoff run? The odds are stacked against them and, unless they make a trade or they can get certain players back in the rotation, the team is looking more and more like a play-in team. As of right now, the Sixers are playing some good basketball. Joel Embiid is playing his best basketball and keeping the team above water with contributors like Danny Green, Seth Curry and Shake Milton remaining out. The rotation has been another problem this season due to health and safety protocols along with injuries preventing more consistency and time to gel.

With the reports this past week about James Harden and Ben Simmons swirling, a lot have questioned whether it is the right thing to keep Simmons until the offseason and waste this year of Embiid. The problem is that, although the Sixers have heard offers from the Sacramento Kings and Charlotte Hornets, nobody wants to trade a top player for Simmons who has yet to play this season. The Sixers hold no leverage. 

Currently sitting at 27-19, this homestand is big for the team. Winning all five could be possible if they play how they can. At times this year the Sixers have looked great but at other times they have looked average at best. Winning at least four of these games is crucial for the Sixers as they have already played 46 games and the All-Star break is quickly approaching. According to ESPN the Sixers currently have the fifth easiest strength of schedule (SOS) remaining with their SOS being .489. 

With Embiid having another MVP like season, the team needs to do whatever they can to help him. Whether or not Daryl Morey is right in believing it is best to keep Simmons until the offseason remains to be seen but they should still keep their focus on this years team and try to deal Tobias Harris. Harris has more trade value than Simmons, especially with the way he has been playing as of late, and dealing Harris could bring in a good playmaker along with making minutes available for the younger talent on the team to develop. 

As it stands right now the Sixers are a play-in tournament team with the potential to do some damage if they get past that round. For a team that can be on or off on any given night, they should be hoping to avoid the single elimination play-in. That is also what could make them so dangerous in a seven game series though. No team in the East has a center that can stop Embiid, in fact no team in the NBA has a player that can really contain him, and as long as the wings and perimeter players are having a good night, then the Sixers could be dangerous. 

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Has The Sixers' Championship Window Closed?

By Michael Doctorovitz, Sports Talk Philly Staff

Since 2017, the Sixers have been a regular in the NBA playoffs but haven't had much success in the postseason. After being the top seed in the Eastern Conference last season for the first time in two decades, the team's championship window seemed to be wide open. After a playoff collapse and a very shaky offseason the Sixers find themselves currently sitting at sixth in the conference. The East is a tight race this year though. Although the team is sixth in the conference, they are only 2.5 games back from the top seed, Chicago Bulls. 

With the amount of star power on teams such as the Bulls, Nets, Warriors, Heat, Suns, etc. it will be hard for the team to compete for a championship currently without making any big moves soon. However, the championship window remains cracked open for one reason: Joel Embiid. Embiid is the driving force for this team, arguably the best center in basketball and, at times, can perform like the best basketball player on the planet. This current Sixers roster is good but cannot compete in a seven game series with any of the aforementioned teams. 

Most of the top teams in the league have at least an All-Star duo and a rising star to go along with them. The Sixers currently have one All-Star in Embiid and a rising star in Tyrese Maxey. With Ben Simmons out of the picture and willing to sit out the entire year, if he's not traded by the February 10th deadline, the Sixers need to make a trade for another star to pair with Embiid if they want to continue to compete. 

According to Marc Stein, Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden has recently expressed his openness to playing elsewhere. Harden and Sixers president of basketball operations, Daryl Morey, were together in Houston and the Sixers have been connected to the Harden trade rumors ever since Morey came on board. A trade scenario for Harden, where the Sixers don't have to give up Maxey, is exactly the type of win now trade they would need to make in order to continue competing for a championship.

Vegas oddsmakers currently have the Sixers at +2500 to win the 2022 NBA Finals, that is ninth overall in the league and fourth in their respective conference. The Sixers entered the season at +1600 to win the NBA Finals, at the time those odds were seventh best in the league. For the Sixers to get back on track and into true contender form they need to change some things up on their current roster and hope that their squad can get healthy at the right times as Embiid continues to pave the way and play at an MVP type level. 

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What Has Sparked the Sixers' Seven-Game Winning Streak?

By Michael Doctorovitz, Sports Talk Philly Staff

The 2021 calendar year ended on a rough note for the Sixers, losing four out of five games to close out December.  But the Sixers have started 2022 with seven straight victories.  What is behind this calendar year winning streak?

Health has been a factor, as the team has been getting some players back after being in the league's health and safety protocols, along with head coach Doc Rivers. Getting healthy is one thing, but the MVP type of play from Joel Embiid has been the driving force for the team.

After starting the season off a little slow, the All-Star center has been on a tear lately and seems to be regaining his MVP like form. To start the season in October, Embiid was averaging 21 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists through 6 games. After entering the league's health and safety protocols, and missing 3 weeks of action in November, Embiid played just 5 games and averaged 25 points, 12.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists per contest. In both months his field goal percentage hovered around 43%. 

During the team's current seven-game win streak, Embiid has averaged 33.2 points and 10.5 rebounds. During Monday night's road victory vs the Houston Rockets, Embiid broke the franchise record for most consecutive 30 point road games. The current win streak has propelled the Sixers to a 23-16 record, and 5th in the conference, as they currently sit 4 games back of the Eastern Conference leading Chicago Bulls. 

Embiid has now pushed his season averages up to 27 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists while shooting 47.8% from the field and 38.5% from 3. Embiid also continues to be one of the best rim protectors in the league, averaging 1.4 blocks per game and 1.1 steals per game thus far. Embiid however, is not the only player who has stepped up during the win streak. Forward Tobias Harris has heard his name in trade talks recently but has continued to play well for the Sixers, especially during this streak. The past 4 games Harris has scored 18 points on 47.6% from the field but has still been inconsistent from 3. 

Although Tyrese Maxey has not played in the last 4 games due to Covid-19, he has been a consistent scoring option for the team all season and Furkan Korkmaz has seemed to bust out of his slump to fill his role nicely until he returns. In the last 4 games, Korkmaz has averaged 15.8 points while shooting 44% from the field and 37% from 3 which are all higher than his current season averages. 

The team looks and hopes to get healthier as the All-Star break quickly approaches. Shake Milton remained out with a back contusion on Monday night, along with Seth Curry and Maxey who both missed the contest due to left ankle soreness and Covid-19 health and safety protocols. 

The team will travel back to Philadelphia to play the 22-19 Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night before hosting the rival Boston Celtics on Friday night. 

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