The Sixers are the No.1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs under first-year and veteran coach Doc Rivers. Rivers won an NBA Title as the head guy in Boston in 2008 and lost in Game 7 of the NBA Finals two years later in 2010.
He then when onto Los Angeles and Lob City was born. Doc had multiple Clippers teams that were very good but never fully reached their potential.
That stems from unfortunate injuries to star players Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and just some downright underachieving when fully healthy.
Now in Philly, another team with NBA championship aspirations, Doc has MVP front-runner Joel Embiid, an MVP candidate whose career has been marred by the injury bug.
“The Process” is his nickname for a reason, and when healthy he’s the most complete and talented big man in the league, but remember the keyword “WHEN.”
In the Sixers first-round gentleman’s sweep (4-1) over the Wizards, Embiid suffered a slight tear of his meniscus which now puts him in jeopardy of missing the next series versus the young and very upstart Atlanta Hawks. Don’t let anyone fool you into believing Philly doesn’t need the big Cameroonian to advance past Trae Young and his guys from the “ATL.”
Philly isn’t that efficient on the offensive end outside of maybe Tobias Harris when Embiid is out, but they play great defense led by DPOY candidate Ben Simmons, along with wing Matisse Thybulle and rookie Tyrese Maxey leading the charge on that end of the court land Embiid again when healthy cleaning up their mistakes on the backend.
Having Dwight Howard as a serviceable backup only helps the defense and rebounding. But the Hawks can flat out shoot the ball and won’t be intimidated with or without Embiid.
Led by Trae Young, Atlanta also gentleman swept their opening-round opponent in the New York Knicks (4-1). With Young controlling the tempo in just about every game even in their lone loss he did and got wherever he wanted on the floor but his teammates just missed shots or we may have witnessed a sweep.
Interim coach Nate McMillan who just won his first playoff series as head coach since 2005, has completely turned the Hawks around since taking over mid-season.
They defend as a unit led by Clint Capela on the backend, and he’s gotten Young to be more of a lead guard who not only scores but picks his spots better while getting and keeping others involved.
That coupled with a young nucleus that includes John Collins, DeAndre Hunter, Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and super-sub Lou Williams as the sixth man, this team is dangerous and again they’re what I call “Bombs Over Baghdad” when they begin draining triples from all over the court.
The winner of this series will more than likely be the underdog to the winner of the Bucks and Nets series, and with good reason.
But that’s why you play the game, and in this series, even with a fully healthy and engaged Joel Embiid, the Hawks are very capable of winning it.
Stopping Ice Trae
The way Doc chooses to defend Young will be huge, as I expect Simmons and his length to be on him some, but expect to see a lot of Maxey this series as he’s a great on-ball defender sort of in the mold of Lakers guard Dennis Schroder or Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley who didn’t get many opportunities to guard “Ice Trae” in their series.
Nate McMillan knows Simmons doesn’t wanna shoot from anywhere outside the paint and I expect the Hawks to play some four on five ball and dare him to beat them, and in tight games they’ll definitely resort to “Hack A Simmons” with his obvious woes at the free throw line magnified even more without a healthy Embiid.
In the end, I’ll take the Sixers in 6 or 7 games assuming Embiid can play and play effectively, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Hawks won this series.
“Ice Trae” and the Hawks will be ready.