33 games into the season, the Philadelphia 76ers have proven that they belong in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. With reigning Most Valuable Player Joel Embiid favored to repeat as MVP, the team is starting to cement its place as a bona fide championship contender this year, that is, if they haven’t already done that.
Many have already penciled the 76ers in as a semifinalist at the very least when all is said and done, though that will certainly not be the goalpost for success this time around. Nevertheless, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Philly ends up taking homecourt advantage in round one only to get flicked off in an upset.
Why the 76ers should be especially wary of the Pacers in the playoffs
Philadelphia will undoubtedly be heavily favored in any first-round matchup. That being said, one team is uniquely equipped to give them major fits early in the playoffs, and that team is the one they just lost to last night, the Indiana Pacers.
While the Pacers are just 25-20, they are much better than what their record indicates. Even without their best player in Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana managed to beat the 76ers convincingly, in large part due to their newest addition, Pascal Siakam, who logged his first triple-double with his new ball club.
Haliburton and Siakam complement each other perfectly, and that’s far from the only headliners on the Pacers. Myles Turner is having one of his best seasons yet. Bennedict Mathurin is a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Aaron Nesmith is aving a career year. Buddy Hield is Buddy Hield. TJ McConnell and Andrew Nembhard collaborate with Haliburton to give Indiana the best point guard rotation on Earth.
The Pacers offense has been a giant hurdle to clear for opposing head coaches this season, as it is on pace to be the best one in NBA history. Their defense leaves a lot to be desired, but they have improved to become an average unit on that end since the calendar flipped.
No one’s stopping Embiid on that roster, though Turner gave him quite the impressive challenge last night. And while Turner is still foul-prone, Indiana has plenty of depth with their solid cast of bigs (Siakam, Obi Toppin, Jalen Smith, Isaiah Jackson) that Rick Carlisle can leverage on to match up against Embiid and give him different looks defensively.
Ultimately, the Philadelphia 76ers whould fear no one if they want to follow through on their lofty goal this season. However, the Indiana Pacers are one of the few teams that can make it tough on them, so counting them out would be a mistake.