The phrase “Trust the Process” was beginning to look like a myth that would never pay off, but it now looks like it is bound to represent the Eastern Conference in the 2018 NBA Finals.
The Philadelphia 76ers came into the postseason as the undisputed hottest team in the East, winning 16 straight games, and now look to be pulling away from the pack. This is not all due to the rapid rise of the 76ers, it is a combination of two devasting injuries in Boston, Cleveland being a deeply flawed roster, and the lack of star players with the remaining five teams in the conference.
The story of the King of the East LeBron James’ playoff powers is simple, it takes a team that is significantly more talented than his to top him four times in two weeks. For the past seven years, no team in the East has had that — until now.
The athleticism, the length, the hunger, and firepower in Philadelphia is unparalleled to what the rest of the conference is offering.
The majority of the 76ers month-long dominance was done without Joel Embiid, and that is where it all begins. Embiid gives the 76ers something the league has never seen before. As he showed last night in his return – masked – he is Hakeem Olajuwon with a three-point shot.
There is not a team in the entire NBA that can, or will stop Embiid. In reverse, his ability to control the paint on the defensive side has proven to have a profound impact on his opponent’s style of play.
Ben Simmons in his rookie year has already become one of the most impactful players in the league and can offset LeBron’s control of the offense as he may already be as efficient of a playmaker.
Depth has also shockingly elevated the 76ers ahead of their side of the bracket with Dario Saric emerging as a prominent piece averaging 21.3 ppg and a .548 eFG% (adjusts that 3-pointers are worth more than 2-pointers) this postseason. Along with the always vital J.J Redick, Ersan Ilyasova, Marco Belinelli, and Robert Covington round out a more than average supporting cast.
The path to the Finals presumably will include a Boston team next round that – as a result of injuries – does not have the star power to top the 76ers this season. Boston will have the advantage in experience, but at the end of the day, the talent on the floor will be too much for a team now very reliant on Terry Rozier.
Cleveland and Toronto could go the distance in the battle to take on the 76ers. However, both teams will have major problems in a matchup.
The Cavaliers are and have been a bad defensive team the entire season. They have been unable to defend teams with much less talent than the 76ers. Now, in the postseason Cleveland has hit a wall on offense. They are averaging 90 ppg against a Pacers defense that routinely gave up more points this year than the Heat. That same Heat defense is giving up 120.3 against the 76ers in their series.
The Raptors continue to be an underrated team but have not been able to flex their muscles against the league’s top teams. There is also not an NBA expert alive that is going to take Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan over Simmons and Embiid.
This iteration of the 76ers remains all too inexperienced to top what is likely coming out of the West. But this year, the 76ers look to be in the right place at the right time en route to the NBA Finals.