3 reasons Joel Embiid and the Sixers are the true favorites in the East


The Philadelphia 76ers have been a dominant force all season, posting a 38-17 record in the Eastern Conference heading into Friday night’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers. Sixers president Daryl Morey radically revamped the team around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in his first season with the club, adding a balanced attack on both ends of the floor.

It remains to be seen how far this team can get in the playoffs. Simmons’ offensive shortcomings are a bigger problem in the postseason than in the regular season, and you wonder if Morey will end up embarrassed by the Kyle Lowry trade not going through.

But as strong as the Brooklyn Nets are, Doc Rivers’ Sixers are a force to be reckoned with. Here are three reasons why Philadelphia should be the favorite in the East.

3. Dominant starting position

After last year’s disappointing season in Philadelphia, Daryl Morey knew he had to balance the team’s roster when he was hired. Morey acquired Danny Green and Seth Curry to give two All-Stars and Tobias Harris more playing time. So far, the ruse has worked perfectly.

The Sixers’ starting lineup is one of the best in the NBA. In 481 minutes, they have an offensive rating of a few ticks above 119 and a defensive rating of 105.6, for a net rating of plus-13.7, according to NBA.com. That’s the best record in the league among teams that have played at least 300 minutes. Even if you set that filter at 250 playing minutes, he would still be the best in the East.

This group has a presence on both ends of the field and offers versatility inside and out. Once George Hill is healthy, Doc Rivers can put the veteran in the Green or Currys at times and he really has nothing to lose.

2. Protection

The Brooklyn Nets are a powerful offensive heavyweight thanks to their ridiculous talent, but defensively they’re still pretty weak. The lack of playing time together due to injuries could exacerbate this problem in the postseason.

Meanwhile, the Sixers have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons as their two candidates for Defensive Player of the Year. Embiid has the paint blocked, while Simmons can guard 1-5.

Plus, Philly has a couple of good defenders behind them. Dwight Howard isn’t the dominant presence he once was, but he’s a capable defensive backup to Embiid at center. Matisse Thybulle is a defensive threat with an average of 1.5 steals and one block in just over 19 minutes per game, while NBA rotation players have the most deflections in 36 minutes.

Sixers with some bodies they can throw against the Nets’ (and other opponents’) strengths will be extremely useful in the playoffs.

1. Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid is having an outstanding season and is a legitimate MVP candidate. Some even consider him the favorite, even if the fact that he missed 18 games is just a detail on his resume.

Still, Embiid has taken another step forward this season. He averaged 29.8 points, 11 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.5 blocks and one steal in 32.1 minutes per game. Overall, the big man is shooting 51.6 percent from the field – a career high – 38.9 percent from three-point range and 85.3 percent from the foul line on 11.6 attempts per game.

Embiid can score inside and out. With a better jump shot, he has become a mid-range killer and an above-average three-point shooter, as well as a sharpshooter on the line. The ability to block shots from outside opens up his inside game even more, and he has a lot of movement he can block from deep.

The Sixers have scored 12.5 points per 100 possessions in 1189 minutes with Embiid this season. As long as the Sixers stay healthy, it will be very difficult for them to beat Embiid, who plays at such a high level.

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