5 Sixers bold predictions for 2nd half of season

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Before the Sixers play their final 36 games, we make five bold predictions about the second half of their season. By Noah Levick

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1/5

Joel Embiid now has the best betting odds to be the league’s MVP. Perhaps that makes this prediction not sufficiently bold, although we’ll note that a true center hasn’t won the award since Shaquille O’Neal for the 1999-2000 season. Allen Iverson, of course, was the MVP a year later.

Embiid’s best competition could end up being Nikola Jokic, who’s already notched 50 career triple-doubles. Jokic played in six more first-half games than Embiid, though voters might ultimately be swayed by Embiid’s team having the superior record. 

The Sixers’ final matchup this season against the Nuggets is on March 30, the fifth game of a challenging six-game road trip. Both players are great fun to watch if you enjoy basketball, and we expect they’ll continue to be part of a fascinating MVP race throughout this season as long as both avoid serious injuries and any extended health and safety protocol-related absences.

2/5

No, we don’t predict the Sixers will again acquire Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III, but a similar move (or moves) wouldn’t be at all stunning.

As a reminder, the team picked up Burks and Robinson from the Warriors in exchange for three second-round picks in an effort to improve its bench. Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey is known for looking into every option, including franchise-altering ones, but it’s worth noting he thought the starting lineup of Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris and Embiid would work well together, and he’s been right. That group has outscored opponents by 15.1 points per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass.

Green appears the most likely of the starters to be traded away, but we don’t think Morey will be eager to give the 33-year-old up if he doesn’t believe the return significantly boosts the Sixers’ championship odds. 

A facilitating, low-turnover backup point guard, a stretch four or five and a veteran 3-and-D wing are among the types of players that could theoretically help the Sixers. We’re making the educated guess that Morey will add one or two players that fit some of the above descriptions and hold off on any huge moves. That said, the odds aren’t low that he pushes for Kyle Lowry, Victor Oladipo or another big name.  

3/5

The Sixers have played two more home games than road games, haven’t faced an especially strong schedule and are an NBA-best 15-5 in clutch situations. 

Their 24-12 record isn’t fluky, but it likely won’t be easy to secure the organization’s best winning percentage since the 2000-01 season. They’ll need to go at least 22-14 to have a better mark than the 2017-18 team, which went 52-30. To have a superior winning percentage than the ’00-01 squad, they must finish at least 26-10. 

The Nets, who sit a half-game behind the Sixers in the Eastern Conference standings, have a 123.5 offensive rating since James Harden’s first game with the team, per Cleaning the Glass. Brooklyn entered the All-Star break having won 10 of its last 11 games despite Kevin Durant being out with a left hamstring strain. Health and player availability are major unknowns in a season played during a pandemic, but we predict the Nets will finish at the top of the East and the Sixers will be No. 2. 

4/5

Dwight Howard setting solid screens, injecting energy and helping the Sixers win regular-season games, as he did in last Wednesday’s victory over the Jazz, is great for the team. In the playoffs, though, we think the Sixers will be more selective about when they play Howard.

Reading the tea leaves, we expect head coach Doc Rivers to use Simmons at center for key postseason minutes. 

Simmons-Howard lineups have a minus-6.6 net rating, per Cleaning the Glass. Rivers started no traditional center in the Sixers’ Feb. 15 loss to the Jazz without Embiid, when Simmons scored a career-high 42 points. Earlier in the season, he said on multiple occasions that he liked the look of Simmons at the five but that his team hadn’t been able to practice it much. He’s praised Simmons’ defensive versatility often, calling him capable of guarding any position. We also know Morey understands the importance of shooting around his two All-Stars and recognizes Simmons’ immense value kicking out to players who can knock down threes. 

The Sixers’ situation behind Embiid would obviously change if Morey added a stretch big man, but we figure small-ball lineups with Simmons at center and Embiid off the floor will factor into Rivers’ playoff approach. 

5/5

We’ll say the Sixers beat the Hornets in five games, defeat the Bucks in six games, then lose to the Nets in the Eastern Conference Finals in seven. 

Matchups, adjustments, star power and luck all matter a lot in the postseason. Home-court advantage will be part of the equation, too, although we don’t yet know how many teams will permit fans in attendance. The Sixers are 45-5 at Wells Fargo Center over the last two seasons. They have two All-Stars, one who’s a constant threat in the half court and another who’s tremendous in transition. Harris has averaged 20.2 points on 51.3/40.2/88.7 percent shooting, providing important late-game scoring. He’ll need to play well in the postseason, too. 

At the moment, Simmons, Matisse Thybulle and Green would likely be the Sixers’ three main defenders on the Nets’ dynamic trio of Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant. Perhaps Rivers would also try a zone defense at times. At least in theory, it’d be an entertaining, tightly contested matchup. 

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