The Philadelphia 76ers are three wins away from getting to the Eastern Conference Finals. After going 4-1 in the first round against the Washington Wizards, the Joel Embiid-Ben Simmons era of the Sixers clinched a spot in the second round for the third time in four seasons.
In previous years, the Sixers failed to go beyond the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Being they are the No. 1 seed in the East's playoff picture this season, many believe they are on pace to reach the Conference Finals -- and possibly the NBA Finals.
But first, they have to get past the Atlanta Hawks. Surprisingly, the Sixers lost at home in Game 1 this past Sunday. While they evened the score at one after picking up a win in Game 2 on Tuesday, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith recently predicted that the second-round series against Atlanta won't be a cakewalk for Philly.
“I have the Sixers in seven," Smith told NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Clark on "Takeoff With John Clark" the podcast. "But I say that with some degree of trepidation." While Smith believes the Sixers will overcome their issues in Round 2 and find a way to make it out of the second round using up all seven games, the former Philadelphia Inquirer beat writer believes the Sixers' playoff run won't go much further.
“The ride ends there,” Smith continued. “They ain’t beating the Brooklyn Nets. I can assure you of that.” While Stephen A. believes that the potential long-term absence of James Harden could possibly raise an issue in the future, he ultimately believes Brooklyn has the X-Factor that the Sixers can't contain.
“The problem is do they have KD. … I think that he’s the greatest offensive force since Michael Jordan. That’s how lethal KD is. He’s just unguardable, and the combination of him on the court with Harden or Kyrie (Irving), let alone both, is a championship connection. So to me, I don’t see Philly being the team to knock them off that pedestal." h/t Noah Levick.
In three matchups against the Nets this season, the Sixers never faced Kevin Durant. Even worse for them, they've never faced Brooklyn at full strength. In the first outing at the beginning of the season, both Kyrie Irving and Durant sat out while Harden was still a disgruntled superstar with the Houston Rockets.
In the second and third matchups, just one member of Brooklyn's big three played while two others sat out. It's unclear how well the Sixers could fare against a Brooklyn team with two-thirds of its superstar trio -- let alone the Nets at full strength -- but Stephen A. Smith doesn't have much confidence for the top-seeded Sixers if the Eastern Conference Finals come down to Brooklyn and Philly.