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July 11, 2017

Five thoughts about the Sixers potentially making the playoffs

Sixers NBA

Around the NBA and locally here in the Delaware Valley, a lot of people are wondering if the Sixers can make the playoffs this season. I offered a half-hearted prediction of 40 wins on a recent Sixers Beat that I will revise before the season starts, but here are five things I think about the Sixers and a potential 2018 playoff spot.

1. The weaker Eastern Conference is a factor. Just look at last year’s playoffs and Atlanta, Indiana, and Chicago all more or less have gone into tank mode. Miami figures to make the playoffs this year if it can carry over just some of last year’s ridiculous second half.

That leaves two spots for everyone else (Pistons, Hornets, Sixers, Knicks, Magic, Nets). Realistically, the Sixers will be tasked with beating out one of the Pistons or Hornets. Not a given, but certainly not impossible either.

2. How do the Sixers finally deal with expectations? You don’t have to go far back for a cautionary tale, last year’s Minnesota Timberwolves. The Wolves added Tom Thibodeau to their exciting young core and still couldn’t guard anyone, finishing up 31-51. It’s good to know that the Sixers vets seem to know what they’re getting themselves into.

“I told BC this, everybody has a lot of expectations for this team, but it's hard to win in this league,” Amir Johnson told reporters in Las Vegas over the weekend. “The only thing we can control is playing hard, it takes time. I keep saying this because that's the theme, it's the process.”

Winning is hard, especially for young guys not named Joel Embiid. Speaking of the vets...

3. J.J. Redick should especially help. I wrote about this when they signed him, but Redick’s floor spacing was a major part of some juggernaut Clippers offenses. For a Sixers team looking to just climb out of the basement in terms of offensive efficiency, his elite three-point shooting is exactly what a team full of exciting young shot creators need.

4. How do Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons defend? Everyone talks about their offensive fit, but can Brett Brown get them to buy in quickly on the other end of the floor? Brown and the coaches talked about how impressive Simmons’ defense was in training camp last season, and that would be a big deal if he was at least an average power forward defender to start. That would give the Sixers starting lineup one elite defender (Embiid), one above average defender (Covington), one limited, but smart team defender (Redick) and Simmons.

As for Markelle Fultz, we saw in summer league that he needs some serious work on his defense. That said, it’s a lot easier when you replace Kaleb Tarczewski with…

5. Joel Embiid’s health is everything. We’re burying the lede here. If JoJo can avoid barehanding line drive home runs and stay on the court for 60-65 games, the Sixers probably make the playoffs; if the number is less than that, they probably won’t. It very well could be that simple.

Embiid proved how good he was last season. When he was on the floor, the Sixers played like a Top-7 NBA team and defended at the level of the best team in the NBA. The Sixers!

As long as Embiid can stay healthy, his impact isn’t getting any worse. He proved a lot last season, but for the Sixers to make the playoffs, Embiid has to figure out how to stay healthy.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann

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