No Better Time for Philly to Flourish, Not Flounder in Playoffs


As a longtime Sixers fan, I know better than to look ahead.

Hell, I know better than to be optimistic, but in the ‘Process Era’, Philly hasn’t had an easier path to get over the hump. For three seasons, the Sixers’ biggest obstacle has been the second round of the playoffs. 2018’s most memorable moment was a confetti misfire before losing in five games against Boston. 2019 had the quadruple-bounce Kawhi Leonard fadeaway in Game 7 that still leaves Sixers fans nauseous to this day.

And 2020 was an unceremonious sweep at the hands of the Celtics in the bubble. Despite having a wealth of talent, Philadelphia always manages to implode come playoff time, but 2021 should prove different. 

In short, Philly has a cakewalk to the Eastern Conference Finals. I don’t want to disparage the three teams standing in their way, but Philly lucked out with their path. Despite last night’s loss, they still hold a 3-1 series lead over Washington – should they win, they’ll play New York or Atlanta. The heft of the East; Miami, Milwaukee, Brooklyn and Boston, have been busy duking it out elsewhere.

Philly’s path to the ECF is therefore paved with inexperienced or combustible teams. For once, the stars have aligned for Philadelphia to flourish, instead of flounder. 


The two teams Philadelphia could play in the second round both ended playoff droughts this year. New York hadn’t made the post-season in seven years, and Atlanta was missing for three.

Neither team enters the playoffs with a pedigree for success, nor much experience. The average age for both teams is roughly 25 years old. That isn’t to say that youth isn’t important in the playoffs, but maturity begets experience, something both teams are missing. Despite winning Most Improved Player, this is Julius Randle’s first time in the playoffs. His supposed second option, R.J. Barrett, is in just his second season.

Conversely, the Hawks are led by 22-year-old Trae Young. His second option, John Collins, is just 23. Bogdan Bogdanović, spent most of his career with the Kings, making playoff appearances an impossibility.  

Upsets are always a possibility, but it’s fair to acknowledge the glaring advantage Philly has over both teams. Having spent each of the last four seasons in the playoffs, their postseason experience and comfortability is invaluable. Playoff basketball is different– the game slows and offences erode. Experiences in that environment and with that tempo are exceedingly important.

I don’t think the lights will be too bright for New York nor Atlanta, but Philly won’t take as much time adjusting their eyes.  

Combustible Teams

There are no two players more combustible than Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook. They take on this moniker in two different ways: Beal is explosive where Russ is a little more flammable. Where Beal can ignite for 30+ in a heartbeat, Russ is liable to shoot teams out of games, or succumb to nagging injuries.

There’s no denying his offensive ability, but for all his heroics, Beal can’t lift the dead-weight of the Wizards. He’s the poster child for astronomical offensive performances in losing efforts. Furthermore, Beal’s offensive outputs don’t necessarily translate to team success. Despite averaging over thirty points in his last two seasons, the team hasn’t finished better than the eighth seed. Washington already asks too much of Beal, and yet even when he manages to surpass his responsibilities, the bow breaks.

Having Westbrook around certainly helps, but he’s not the game-changing dynamo he used to be. You don’t become the NBA’s all-time triple-double leader without immense talent, but Russ’ body isn’t what it once was. In fact, he left game two with an ankle injury sustained in a 25-point blow out.

He’s got a laundry list of injuries, but his combustibility isn’t only physical. Russ might be a little too competitive for his own good. Often succumbing to his own ferocity, taking too many shots, or barking at crowds of family members before getting on his way to the wrong side of gentleman’s sweep. The dual All-NBA guards that lead their team simply can’t regulate all the elements it’d take to beat Philadelphia. 

Glaring Mismatches

None of the teams Philadelphia is playing have a slew of elite wings. One of the reasons they’ve had so much trouble with the Celtics is because of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. And lest we forget the 2019 series where they ran into a transcendent version of Kawhi. There are no perimeter players on any of the three teams that can dismantle the 76ers’ defensive chemistry.

There isn’t a backcourt that can do it either. Trae Young is stellar on his own, but his impact isn’t greater than Beal and Westbrook combined. The 76ers are making short work of the Washington backcourt, so it makes sense they could stifle Trae with less trouble.

As for the Knicks, they don’t have any elite guards that could realistically give the likes of Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle enough trouble to warrant major adjustments. 

Which brings us to the presence in the paint. Neither Atlanta nor New York nor Washington have a big man that’s in the same stratosphere as Embiid. Sure, Randle’s brand of inside-out toughness is effective, but it’s unlikely his gritty heroics can match Embiid’s sheer unstoppability. Every other feasible big Philly could face will likely become a victim of Embiid’s offensive arsenal. 

Philadelphia outmatches their current, and next possible opponents inside and outside, offensively and defensively. It’s hard to find a veritable disadvantage the Sixers could encounter. They’ve been gifted a path of teams with no playoff experience, health concerns and numerous mismatches. If there were ever a season for ‘The Process’ to finally get out of the second round, it’s this one.

Is it an easy road? Certainly, and for that reason, expectations of winning provide another layer of pressure. However, it’s about time Philadelphia proves itself in the playoffs– they won’t have a better shot than they do right now. 

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About Kadin Burnett

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