With the NBA playoffs beginning Sunday morning Australian time Philadelphia 76ers superstar Ben Simmons is sitting pretty. After a phenomenal rookie season in which he averaged 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists a game and recorded more triple doubles than Magic Johnson, Simmons looks like a certainty to take out Rookie of the Year honours.
Perhaps even more importantly Simmons helped guide the 76ers to the third seed in the Eastern Conference, closing out the season with a 16-game winning streak. The run was made even more impressive given the Sixers were without their other franchise star, centre Joel Embiid, for the last eight games.
“The Sixers have had a tough few years and this is the first year we’ve all been healthy and playing so it’s exciting,” Simmons told MH during a recent interview in Philadelphia. “I think that it’s come quicker than expected for most people. We look good.”
Simmons is hoping Embiid will be back for the second, possibly even the first round of the playoffs, which would give the team a legitimate shot at making it all the way through to the Eastern Conference finals.
“You’re not going to win a championship by yourself,” Simmons says. “Everyone’s seen that from the Heat, to the Spurs to Golden State, it takes more than one person. We’ve definitely spoken about it. I think at the start of the season we were kind of finding ourselves and who was going to score the most and who was going to do what. I think we’ve played well together and it’s going to get better.”
Before Embiid’s return, Simmons and the Sixers will need to get past Miami, their opponent in the first round. Read on to discover all the playoff matchups and to make sure you don’t miss a tip-off, grab a Tissot Chrono XL NBA team watch. These stylish timepieces are available with the logos of six of the NBA’s most popular teams on the dial. ($475, tissotwatches.com)
NBA PLAYOFF PREVIEW
EASTERN CONFERENCE 1ST ROUND MATCHUPS
1 TORONTO RAPTORS (59-23) V 8 WASHINGTON WIZARDS (43-39)
The Raptors have gone missing in the playoffs the last few seasons but this year coach-of-the-year candidate Dwane Casey has them shooting three-pointers and spreading the floor. Are the Raptors for real? Difficult to say but they should account for the fractured Wizards, whose star John Wall is still finding his feet after missing a chunk of the regular season.
PREDICTION: Toronto 4-1
2 BOSTON CELTICS (55-27) V 7 MILWAUKEE BUCKS (44-38)
The Celtics have been decimated by injuries and will be taking the floor without both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. The Bucks haven’t lived up to their potential but they do possess the ‘Greek Freak’ Giannis Antetokounmpo. They say in the playoffs, the team with the best player on the floor usually prevails, so we’re going with the Bucks.
PREDICTION: Milwaukee 4-2
3 PHILADELPHIA 76ERS V 6 MIAMI HEAT (44-38)
The Sixers may be without Embiid but that hasn’t hurt them down the stretch. The playoffs are an entirely different proposition though and the big question is whether teams will be able to capitalise on Simmons’ lack of outside shooting. Simmons certainly doesn’t think so. As he told MH: “They’ve figured me out now and they can’t stop what I’m going to do.”
PREDICTION: 76ERS 4-2
4 CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (50-32) V 5 INDIANA PACERS (48-34)
The Cavaliers generally flick the switch this time of year as LeBron goes into “Zero Dark 23” mode and starts playing defence. The Pacers, led by Victor Oladipo – a shoo-in for Most Improved Player – have surprised everyone with their success this year but ‘playoff LeBron’, well, he don’t play.
PREDICTION: CAVALIERS 4-0
LIKELY EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPION: CLEVELAND
If Embiid returns to the roster fully fit the 76ers can possibly make it to the Eastern Conference Finals but their unlikely run should end there when they face LeBron. The King is gunning for his eighth straight trip to the finals. Unfortunately for Simmons and co. ‘the King’ isn’t done yet.
WESTERN CONFERENCE 1ST ROUND MATCHUPS
1 HOUSTON ROCKETS (65-16) V 8 MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES (47-35)
The Rockets seem to be the real deal this year with the addition of Chris Paul somehow managing to complement rather than hinder MVP favourite James Harden’s game. With Jimmy Butler back the Timberwolves won’t be a pushover but coach Tom Thibodeau’s season-long penchant for giving his stars marathon minutes could come back to haunt them in a seven-game series.
PREDICTION: Rockets 4-1
2 GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (58 -24) V 7 SAN ANTONIO SPURS (47-35)
The Warriors have looked vulnerable for the first time in three years without the injured Steph Curry but you’d expect Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson to pick up the slack now the playoffs are upon us. The Spurs failed to win 50 games for the first time since the Clinton administration and without Kawhi Leonard shouldn’t pose too much of a threat, although you can never rule out Popp helping them steal a game.
PREDICTION: Warriors 4-1
3 UTAH JAZZ (48-33) V 6 OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (48-34)
The Jazz have been the surprise packet of the season, storming up the standings after a poor start, thanks to the dynamic play of Simmons’ rival for Rookie of the Year, Donovan Mitchell and the return of defensive ace Rudy Gobert. The Thunder have been plagued by chemistry problems – yep it’s hard to play with Russ who averaged a triple double for the second consecutive season but still seems to hurt his team as much as help them. The Thunder badly need ‘Hoodie Melo’ to show up, knock down some shots and play a little D, otherwise the Jazz will pounce.
PREDICTION: THUNDER 4-3
4 PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS (48-33) V 5 NEW ORLEANS PELICANS (48-34)
The Trailblazers are another team that’s stepped it up this year behind the inspired play of point guard (and rapper) Damian Lillard. They’ll need it to be ‘Dame Time’ for the next six weeks to have any chance against the likes of the Rockets and Warriors but they should get past the Pelicans who, without Boogie Cousins are a one-man team whose fate hinges on the play of unicorn Anthony Davis.
PREDICTION: Trailblazers 4-1
LIKELY WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPION: GOLDEN STATE
If the Warriors can get past the Spurs and Curry’s ankle is 100 per cent healthy then they should have too much firepower for the Rockets in the Western Conference finals.
NBA FINALS PREDICTION
Golden State Warriors V Cleveland Cavaliers
Sorry folks, but it’s hard to see anyone other than these two teams meeting for the fourth consecutive time. A lot depends on Curry’s ankle but if the Warriors are firing on all cylinders nobody, not even the King, can stop them.
PREDICTION: Golden State 4-2