3 players who could make or break 76ers in first round vs. Nets

James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers will enter their first round series with the sixth-seeded Brooklyn Nets as the heavy favorites. That shouldn’t keep any well-trained Sixers fan from letting doubt creep into the bad of their mind, though. If any team can fumble a winnable series against a seemingly inferior opponent, it’s the Sixers.

The players will have to show up to work and do their jobs. So will Doc Rivers. Joel Embiid and James Harden are better than any player on the Nets roster, but lethargic defense or unfocused offense can quickly evaporate whatever advantage that may lend the Sixers.

Finishing the season with the third-best record in the NBA, the Sixers have all the momentum. Brooklyn finished the season 11-13 after the trade deadline, when they traded away Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and any real chance of championship contention. That said, the Nets are not pushovers, and the Sixers are not unbeatable juggernauts. There are plenty of holes to be poked in this Philly team, and the Nets will try their hardest to make it happen.

Which players could make or break the Sixers in round one of the 2023 NBA playoffs?

Players who could make or break 76ers in Nets series

3. Tobias Harris

Tobias Harris has been quite the mixed bag this season. There have been stretches where he has played the best basketball of his career, efficiently sniping 3s and providing a steady dose of rim pressure to complement Philly’s offensive cornerstones. There have also been stretches where Harris has felt horribly out of place — too self-important to simply spot up on the perimeter but not good enough to influence winning as a central force in the offense.

Last postseason was some of Harris’ best basketball as a Sixer. He ratcheted up the defensive intensity and could be found hounding the likes of Jimmy Butler or Pascal Siakam for 40 minutes a night. He also bought into his role as a volume shooter and quick decision-maker. With Tobias, a good rule of thumb is the fewer dribbles, the better.

Harris has skewed more toward the negative side of the aforementioned spectrum in recent weeks. Defense are more keyed into a team’s specific weaknesses in the postseason. If Harris bogs down the halfcourt offense with ill-advised dribbling forays and contested mid-range J’s, then Brooklyn could find themselves with an unexpected advantage. If Harris gets up a healthy volume of spot-up 3s and doesn’t get in Embiid or Harden’s way — and he also steps up defensively again — then it’s hard to imagine the Sixers losing.

At the end of the day, Harris is still the Sixers’ best “role” player. He’s capable of big scoring nights and his versatility on defense will carry elevated importance in the playoffs, especially against a team like Brooklyn with so much size across the positional spectrum.