With NBA All-Star weekend now in the rearview mirror, it is time for the Philadelphia 76ers and other teams to make a push towards the playoffs. The Sixers (37-21), who are currently tied for fourth place in the Eastern Conference with the Boston Celtics, will take on the Miami Heat on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
After their tilt with the Heat, the Sixers’ next four games are against the Portland Trail Blazers (home), New Orleans Pelicans (away), Golden State Warriors (home), and Orlando Magic (home). At best, Philly needs to go 3-2 to create some type of separation between themselves, the Celtics and Indiana Pacers, who currently hold the third seed.
Nevertheless, it will be up to Sixers head coach Brett Brown to have his guys ready to go down the stretch. There is no reason why this team cannot make a deep playoff run with the talent they have accumulated this season alone.
In addition to the pressure on Brown, here are three things to watch out for post-All-Star break from the Sixers.
1. Starting lineup continuing to gel
In the games leading up to the All-Star break, we saw how potent the Sixers’ new starting lineup could be. Against the Denver Nuggets, the starters scored 97 of the team’s 117 points and sported an offensive rating (ORtg) of 118.8.
Then against the Los Angeles Lakers a couple of days later, the Sixers’ starting lineup scored 103 points and had a ridiculous ORtg of 137 and defensive rating (DRtg) of 113.8. There are not many teams in the NBA that can get that much productivity from their starting lineup in two consecutive games, outside of the Golden State Warriors.
In fact, the starting lineup of Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler, J.J. Redick, and Ben Simmons is averaging +26.6 points in 72 minutes, which is supremely better than the previous lineup with Wilson Chandler (+11.8 points in 293 minutes).
The Sixers’ starting lineup should be able to get them early leads, however, it will be up to the bench to fold down the fort.
2. Who steps up off the bench?
After last Tuesday’s disappointing loss to the Celtics, many fans were wondering what happened to Jonah Bolden and James Ennis. Bolden, the rookie from Australia, has played well in spurts this season, providing the Sixers with a rim protector and stretch forward.
Ennis, however, was recently acquired at the deadline from the Rockets and played pretty well against the Nuggets in his Sixers’ debut. But for some reason, Brett Brown wanted to experiment with the rotation, giving minutes to Boban Marjanovic and Furkan Korkmaz, instead of those guys. While this is not an issue in the regular season, eventually Brown will have to commit to a firm 8-10 man rotation in the playoffs.
We already know that T.J. McConnell will serve as the team’s primary backup point guard with Mike Scott and Jonathon Simmons playing a considerable amount of minutes off of the bench.
Therefore, who will the last couple of spots go to? Only time will tell, but Bolden and Ennis need to be playing more, especially with what they can bring to the table defensively.
3. A return from Zhaire Smith?
Even though Smith has not played a single minute of regular season basketball yet, it seems that the rookie from Texas Tech could be making his debut sooner than later.
Smith missed all of training camp and most of this season due to a broken foot and food allergy. However, he has taken strides in his rehab and conditioning, spending time with the Delaware Blue Coats (Sixers’ G-League affiliate).
It should be interesting to see how Smith looks in his first NBA G-League game and eventually his first NBA game. We already know that he has the tools and skills to be a tremendous defender in the NBA; it is just a matter of how his offensive game comes along.