Are the Philadelphia 76ers now the team to beat in the East?

It’s been less than a week since the Philadelphia 76ers made some major moves before the trade deadline. The results in their past two games speak for them self, with first an impressive victory over the Denver Nuggets on Feb 8 and then a 143-120 blow-out of the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb 10. It’s a quick turnaround that GM Elton Brand must be pleased about considering he seems to have pushed all his chips into the center of the table in hopes for immediate playoff success for these Sixers. I mean things have been going so well that even Ben Simmons is shooting three’s

With the addition on SF Tobias Harris, the Sixers now boast maybe the strongest starting five outside of Golden State. A group already being dubbed the Phantastic 5. Yeah, that nickname is little lame, but you can’t deny that this lineup is starting to look like a problem that everyone in the Eastern Conference will be dreading come playoff time.

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Via 6abc.com

The real question swirling is whether this combination of talent will truly be enough to lead the Sixers to their first NBA Finals appearance since 2001 when Allen Iverson carried a lackluster team there to face a Shaq and Kobe led Laker team.

Time will tell whether that will come to fruition, but it’s certainly been a great start for these new-look Sixers. Tobias Harris will be less productive than he was on a mediocre Los Angeles Clippers team, but he will provide an ability to stretch the floor and create space for All-Star talents Joel Embiid and Simmons.  On paper, this starting five is the best combination of talent you could hope for. Embiid is the inside presence who is a terrific passer for a big man, Simmons can drive and dish to three capable knock-down shooters, Harris and JJ Reddick being the best of those options. It will even provide more floor space and better opportunities for Jimmy Butler to utilize the pick a roll and find mismatches to expose on any given night.

Simply put, besides Simmons inability to make a shot outside 12 feet, there aren’t many weaknesses that this new-look starting five possesses. And while their bench depth can be questioned, come playoff time when the lineup trims to 7 or 8 players it will be Philadelphia with the upper hand against nearly any other opponent in the East.

The Boston Celtics have been the perennial thorn in the side for this Sixers’ team and have taken both games against them thus far this season. Tuesday, Feb 12 they match up in Philadelphia and it should be the best test yet of how ready this team is to make a run through the Eastern Conference Playoffs. In the past, the Celtics have been able to keep Simmons out of the paint and rendered him useless on the perimeter along with finding unique matchups and double teams to slow down Ebriid. This has often come at the expense of allowing Reddick to have some big games from deep. In the past that hasn’t been an issue. Reddick won’t beat you by himself.  But this new look lineup no longer allows the Celtics or any other team to play that game. You must respect that each and every player on the floor can ignite and burn you for 30+ on any given night.

It will be a massive game for both teams with the Celtics looking on the brink from imploding from the inside with a flurry of comments lately on the internal dysfunction of that team.

Speaking of dysfunction, something the Sixers are no stranger to, I will leave you with this. I believe this Philadelphia team has made all the right moves to cash in this year and earn a spot to face the inevitable challenge of the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. But if this team does not live up to its newfound expectations, then things could quickly get ugly. There is a possibility that after trading away some young talent and assets in the Tobias Harris deal, that he could prefer to sign elsewhere this offseason. Same goes for Butler who is about as unpredictable as a Markell Fultz free throw shot. There’s an alternative universe where both guys leave this offseason and the Sixers go into the 2019-20 season with just Embiid and Simmons as their true stars, with Simmons (another Klutch Sports athlete) just a year away from his own decision about his future.

It’s further reasoning why this move to push all the marbles in on this year was so crucial, but also such a risk. Over the next few months, we will find out whether the “Process” was finally fulfilled or will be viewed as a disaster of epic proportions.

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