We agree with USA Today:
1. Impressive since the start of the new year
From Jan. 1 through the end of the regular season, the Sixers had the best winning percentage (76%) in the East. During that time, they had the sixth-best offensive rating and second-best defensive rating, scoring 110.2 points and allowing 100.6 points per 100 possessions.
That’s an extended body of work.
Philly finished the regular season with 16 consecutive victories and then beat Miami 4-1 in the first round, winning on the road, too.
The 76ers have the fourth-best net rating (and the best in the East) throughout the playoffs.
2. Young talent
Simmons and Embiid are two of the best young players in the NBA, and along with Dario Saric, the Sixers have one of the best young cores under 24 years old. Simmons and Embiid will be All-Stars for a long time, Saric is a solid contributor and rookie Markelle Fultz, who had an injury plagued season, has a chance to be special.
Simmons became the first rookie since Magic Johnson to record a playoff triple-double, and Embiid had a double-double and five blocks in his second playoff game. He 23 points in his playoff debut and deconstructed the Heat, who had little defensive answer against him. As he did all season, Simmons continually lowered his head and barrelled his way to the rim.
Saric had double figures in scoring in four of five games against Miami, including at least 20 points three times.
That group has proven they can hold their own through a grueling regular season, and they don’t lack confidence. Now, winning games in the conference semifinals and finals isn’t easy, and it sometimes takes setbacks to learn how to win those games.
3. Experienced vets
General manager Bryan Colangelo paid J.J. Redick $23 million to make threes and provide a veteran presence. Redick did exactly that, averaging 17.1 points and shooting 42% on threes during the regular season. Amir Johnson also helped Redick with locker room culture.
Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova were outstanding pickups in the buyout market and should continue to be productive in the playoffs.
Brett Brown deserves significant credit for the development of the Sixers. He coached them through horrible seasons (19 wins in 2013-14, 18 in 2014-15 and 10 in 2015-16) and never let losses detract from his enthusiasm. He remained focused on the big picture, which was teaching players how to play the right way with the idea that this moment would arrive.
While Brown had never been in the playoffs as a head coach, he was on Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio staff for four NBA titles. It’s safe to surmise he learned a thing or two about coaching in big games.
5. Vulnerable East
Top-seed Toronto, Boston and fourth-seed Cleveland will play at least six games in the first round. Toronto and Boston have only won at home, and Cleveland has struggled to hold leads against Indiana: