5 Eastern Conference teams that should scare the Sixers

James Harden, Sixers Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
James Harden, Sixers Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /
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(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Why the Boston Celtics should scare the Sixers

If any team has had the Embiid-era Sixers’ number when it matters most, it’s probably Boston. The Celtics look deadlier than ever this season. It will take time for the defense under Joe Mazzulla to find equilibrium, but once it does, Boston should easily possess the NBA’s top defense. There are high-level defenders seven or eight players deep into that rotation.

Jayson Tatum is making the MVP leap right before our eyes. There’s a very real chance he wins the award before Embiid, which is unfortunate. But it also speaks to Tatum’s talent and just how deadly Boston’s offense might be. Jaylen Brown is approaching perennial All-Star status besides, and Marcus Smart is on the shortlist of best perimeter defenders in the sport. He will give James Harden all he can handle (as will Tatum… and Brown… and Derrick White… and Grant Williams).

There’s also the Al Horford thing. Horford can’t single-handedly stonewall Embiid like he once could, but he’s still one of the few individual defenders who can genuinely mess up Embiid’s flow. Any issues caused by Horford individually are compounded by the collective pressure of Boston’s defense, which can bring double teams more prolifically and effectively than any team in basketball. The Celtics have the capacity to switch 1-5 and are comfortable throwing any number of looks at Embiid to disrupt his rhythm.

Right now Boston is jockeying with Milwaukee for the title of “eastern conference favorite.” The Sixers would like to be considered for that title themselves, but 3-4 and the worst transition defense in the NBA won’t cut it. The Celtics have basically owed Philly in the playoffs since Embiid arrived and it would take a serious turnaround for the Sixers to end that streak come May.

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