Philadelphia 76ers NBA Bubble Restart Preview
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (39-26, 6th place)
Where are they now: It’s a case of good news, bad news, for the Philadelphia 76ers as they prepare for action to resume at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando. The good news: Philadelphia already has clinched a spot in the playoffs. The bad news: The 76ers are lingering in the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference after an underwhelming first part of the regular season.
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More good news: Ben Simmons is healthy and with the team after missing time because of a nerve impingement in his lower back. More bad news: The 76ers still are not sure how to get the most out of veteran Al Horford, who could move to a bench role in the first season of his four-year, $109 million free-agent contract. This is all to say that the 76ers have proved to be good but not great, and they do not have much time as they look to capture greatness heading into the postseason.
Simmons’ return certainly boosts the 76ers’ chances to make a run. The 23-year-old Australian averaged 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 8.2 assists in 54 games before his back injury halted his season.
“I’m feeling better than I was at the start of the season,” Simmons recently told reporters. “I’ve been working since I had the injury, working until now to be prepared for whatever happens and wherever we go. I’m feeling great and been rehabbing this whole time, so I’ve been feeling ready and I’m very comfortable.”
Adding to Philadelphia’s optimism is a relatively light schedule for the eight-game stretch before the playoffs begin. The 76ers could face a challenge in their first game against the Indiana Pacers, but they face several work-in-progress opponents such as the San Antonio Spurs, Washington Wizards, Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns.
Philadelphia 76ers First Half Highlights
No team had a more drastic home-and-road momentum swing than the 76ers did. When the NBA put its season on pause, Philadelphia was 29-2 at home and 10-24 on the road. Injuries and fatigue provided extra challenges for head coach Brett Brown’s team, which looked unimpressive as it went 8-9 over its final 17 games.
The 76ers’ identity is built around defense first and offense second, and the first half reinforced that approach. Philadelphia ranked tied for fifth in team defense with 107.4 points allowed per game, but it finished No. 21 in team offense with 109.6 points per game. Six players averaged in double-digit scoring led by terrific big man Joel Embiid, who had 23.4 points per game to go along with a team-high 11.8 boards.
Philadelphia 76ers NBA Bubble Roster Rundown
Philadelphia used the break to, ahem, shake up its starting lineup. Shake Milton has moved into the starting point guard role with Josh Richardson at shooting guard, Tobias Harris at small forward, Simmons at power forward and Embiid at center. Milton started 16 of 32 games before the shutdown, averaging 9.5 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists while shooting 49.8 percent from the field.
With Simmons seemingly entrenched at the four spot, Horford will slide into a bench role alongside other contributors such as Alec Burks, Furkan Korkmaz and Glenn Robinson III. The 34-year-old Horford averaged 12 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 60 games (57 starts) with Philadelphia, but his 44.2 percent shooting percentage was by far the lowest of his career, and he has yet to develop chemistry on the court with Embiid.
Philadelphia 76ers NBA Bubble Playoff Outlook and 76ers Best Bets
The 76ers have the same record as the Indiana Pacers and trail the Miami Heat by only two games, so a lot could happen over the eight-game stretch. If Brown’s team is able to take advantage of a lighter schedule, it could move into the four or five spot and square off against Miami or Indiana in the first round. However, if the 76ers stumble, they would remain in the sixth spot and likely face the Boston Celtics in the playoff opener.
Best bets: Yes, it has been an up-and-down season for Philadelphia. But Simmons is healthy, Embiid is rested and Milton could invigorate the starting lineup. Why not bet on the 76ers’ chances during the eight seeding games? Sugar House has set the over-under for total wins at 5.5 during the 76ers’ next eight games, with +130 odds on the over and -177 odds on the under. The schedule lines up nicely for Philadelphia, particularly if they can edge the Pacers in the opening contest.