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Philly sports scene: Matching up against Miami

Andrew Heller, Staff Writer

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Three years ago the Philadelphia 76ers were a ten-win team and broke the record for most consecutive losses by a professional sports franchise. The same year, rookie center Jahlil Okafor got into a literal fistfight with Celtics’ fans on the streets of Boston after a tough 80-84 loss. I remember thinking to myself, “This team has a lot of heart; they clearly don’t want to lose.”

Three years later and the Sixers aren’t losing anymore. In their series finale against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Sixers won their 16th straight game and broke the NBA record for most consecutive wins to end a regular season. In the same game, the Sixers put up 80 points in the first half and rookie point guard Markelle Fultz became the youngest NBA player ever to record a triple double.

“The Process” is nearly complete, but it’s still missing one crucial piece of the puzzle: playoff success.

Philadelphia will enter the 2018 playoffs as the third seed in the Eastern Conference and will play host to the Miami Heat in a seven game series. During the regular season, the Sixers and the Heat split the four games they played against each other with the Sixers winning both games in Philly and the Heat winning two games in Miami. Despite splitting the season series with the gutsy Heat team, Brett Brown’s men are in a prime position to carry their regular season momentum deep into the playoffs.

Even with All-Star center Joel Embiid potentially missing the first few games of the season due to his injured orbital bone, the Sixers match up really well against the Heat on paper.

Comparing point guards, Ben Simmons has a clear advantage in talent over the veteran Goran Dragic. Simmons has averaged close to a triple double per game this season with a 15.6 point per game average, 8.1 rebounds per game and 8.2 assists per game. Simmons is also averaging close to 34 minutes per game making him a constant threat for the Heat. Dragic is averaging 17.1 points per game with 4.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. Dragic may be able to play well off the dribble, but the recently strong defensive coverage by Robert Covington should be enough to stifle Dragic’s shots when the two match up.

While Simmons overpowers the strength of Dragic, the Sixers do need to be weary of Miami’s center Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside has done damage to the Sixers in the past, especially when the two played in Miami during the regular season. During that game, Whiteside tallied 26 points and eight rebounds. Without Embiid to start the series, Whiteside may be able to take advantage of the Sixers in the paint. However, it won’t be enough to stop the juggernaut of an offense that Brett Brown has created.

In the season finale, Philadelphia scored 80 points in the first half without getting a single bucket from Simmons, Embiid or J.J Reddick who, like Embiid, also missed the game due to injury. Marco Bellinelli, Justin Anderson, T.J McConnell, Richaun Holmes and Markelle Fultz all scored more than ten points against a playoff caliber Milwaukee Bucks team. Although the Heat have the 2006 NBA Finals MVP in Dwayne Wade as their ace in the hole, Philly has a plethora of talent coming off the bench that will prove to be too much for the Heat to handle.

The Sixers could easily take care of business against the Heat in four or five games, which means they would play the winner of the series between the Boston Celtics and the Bucks. If the Bucks manage to knock off Boston early in the first round, the Sixers should have no trouble advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Like Miami, the Sixers split their season series with the Bucks. By that point in the semi-finals Joel Embiid would hopefully be back to full strength and would provide enough support to cover the Greek Freek, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Besides Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee is pretty shorthanded as far as scoring ability, but the squad does have a strong shooting guard in Tony Snell, whose 40.3 shooting percentage from beyond the arc could be troubling for any team.

A much more intriguing Eastern Conference Semi-finals matchup for the Sixers would be against Boston. The Celtics gave the Sixers a lot of trouble during the regular season, winning 3 out of 4 games. The loss of Kyrie Irving is clearly a huge blow to Boston’s chances at making a run for the NBA Finals. The Sixers lone win against the Celtics came in late January when Kyrie missed the game due to shoulder soreness and Joel Embiid went off with game high numbers in points, rebounds and assists.

Boston has a really solid young squad filled with players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown who will have talent for years to come. Colin Cowherd of Fox Sports One has boldly predicted that the Celtics, not the Sixers, are the future of the Eastern conference, “I don’t know what to make of Philly, but I know they’re not going to win the East this year. And in the next ten years, they are going to be behind Boston” said Cowherd. Well, ten years down the line isn’t right now. And right now, this Philadelphia team has the chemistry and momentum to go deep into the postseason regardless of who they face.

According to Cowherd, the Sixers are, “Like the fat kid who is finally in shape.  He gets to the first 61 degree day and runs to the beach to take his shirt off” Guess what, “finally in shape” is an understatement, Mr. Cowherd. Other than the 83’ championship team, this is the most complete squad that Philly has ever assembled. The fat kid isn’t just going to the beach; he has a date with Lebron James in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Andrew Heller is a first-year graduate student majoring in English. ✉ [email protected].

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Philly sports scene: Matching up against Miami