The coronavirus pandemic halted the NBA season four months ago, the equivalent of an entire offseason. It is easy to forget where everyone left off, let alone what has changed since we last saw NBA basketball. In order to get you up to speed before the July 30 season re-opening slate at Walt Disney World in Orlando, we will be reviewing and previewing each of the 22 teams scheduled to participate.
[More NBA restart previews: Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Houston Rockets • Indiana Pacers • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Orlando Magic • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Toronto Raptors • Utah Jazz • Washington Wizards]
Where were the Philadelphia 76ers?
Place: Sixth in the East
The Philadelphia 76ers were a mess. What was essentially a swap of Jimmy Butler for Josh Richardson and the ability to sign Al Horford in free agency created an even more ill-fitting roster. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid were never a perfect match, but their chemistry with a new-look roster was worse than ever before — bad enough offensively to drop a team with title aspirations into sixth place in the East.
Worse, yet, Simmons had suffered a back injury that threatened his availability for the playoffs, and Embiid was still working his way back from hand and shoulder injuries that led to another extended absence. Both are presumably healthy for the restart, and coach Brett Brown has labeled Simmons a power forward rather than a point guard, which means a further diminished role for Horford. Hope remains the 76ers can contend with a chemistry reboot, but reshuffling a flawed roster only masks so much.
Who’s in and who’s out?
The Sixers expect to have their full contingent in Orlando, including trade deadline acquisitions Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III. Looking to add shooting depth, the Sixers signed second-year Australian marksman Ryan Broekhoff to a substitution contract in June, but his wife, who is immunocompromised, recently tested positive for COVID-19, and he opted not to join his new teammates in Walt Disney World.
NBA Finals odds: +900
Championship odds: +2500
It would be easy to say Ben Simmons is Philadelphia’s X-factor, since we are still waiting to see if he can develop the jump shot necessary to achieve an MVP-level ceiling. Brown’s decision to dub Simmons a power forward suggests we will be waiting a while longer, even if that is most likely a distinction in name only. The two-time All-Star is still expected to command the lead playmaking role in the Sixers’ offense.
Naming Simmons a starting power forward means Horford is relegated to the bench as an overqualified (and overpaid) backup center. It also means Shake Milton will join the starting lineup. A 2018 second-round pick, Milton has been projected as an X-factor ever since, and he lived up to that billing just before the break, averaging 17.9 points on 58.5 percent 3-point shooting in eight games as the starting point guard in place of an injured Simmons. His skills as a pick-and-roll playmaker and catch-and-shoot threat should better complement Simmons and Embiid, a step toward solving Philadelphia’s chemistry.
(All times Eastern)
Aug. 1: Indiana Pacers, 7 p.m.
Aug. 3: San Antonio Spurs, 8 p.m.
Aug. 5: Washington Wizards, 4 p.m. (NBATV)
Aug. 7: Orlando Magic, 6:30 p.m. (TNT)
Aug. 9: Portland Trail Blazers, 6:30 p.m. (NBATV)
Aug. 11: Phoenix Suns, 4:30 p.m.
Aug. 12: Toronto Raptors, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Aug. 14: Houston Rockets, TBD
The Sixers have the talent to reach the NBA Finals. They were a popular preseason pick to emerge from the East, but those projections were quickly thrown out the window when the product on the floor failed to meet expectations. The defense, while stout, was not quite at the elite level you might expect from a team full of long and versatile defenders, and the offense was downright bad. Is it possible that a well-rested Embiid becomes the most dominant defensive force in the playoffs, the offense improves with increased spacing, and the Sixers finally live up to the hype as a legit contender? Yes, absolutely yes.
You could not ask for a better triumvirate than Simmons, Embiid and Horford to counter Giannis Antetokounmpo in the playoffs, and they executed to perfection against the presumptive back-to-back MVP in a statement win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Christmas. More likely, though, the consistency of a more well-balanced Bucks team that has been significantly better than the Sixers all season long on both sides of the ball will rule the day, as Milwaukee did in a pair of more recent decisive wins this year.
Whether those two teams would meet before the Eastern Conference finals depends on if the Sixers stay in sixth place or flip with the fifth-seeded Indiana Pacers (also 39-26). While a sixth-place finish would kick a meeting with the Bucks two rounds down the road, it also means potential first- and second-round meetings with the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors, a pair of teams with the personnel and strategic execution to overcome Embiid being the best player on the floor. Truth is, neither a first-round exit nor a Finals appearance would be a surprise from the Sixers. Brown’s job may hinge on either.
Yahoo Sports NBA prediction
Place: Fifth in the East
Finish: Eastern Conference semifinals loss
Check out the NBA Disney World bubble in augmented reality:
More from our NBA restart series:
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