1. Philly is a legit Finals contender
The 76ers’ dismantling of Miami sent a clear message to the rest of the East: This team of the future is ready to win this year, too.
“I think our time is now,” Embiid told reporters Monday ahead of Game 5. “… We have a special team, a lot of great guys. I don’t think we need anybody else. We’ve just got to work with what we have. We have a special team, and I feel like we have a pretty good chance to go far.”
FiveThirtyEight’s projection model agrees, pegging the 76ers with a whopping 75 percent chance of making it to the conference finals and an East-best 40 percent chance of an NBA Finals berth. The Rockets are the lone team with better odds of hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy this season than Philly, according to FiveThirtyEight.
That’s in part as much a referendum on the rest of the East as it is validation of the 76ers.
Had Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward been healthy, the Celtics likely would be runaway favorites to represent the East in the NBA Finals. Though LeBron James is still LeBron James, his supporting cast has been nowhere to be found in the Cavaliers’ first-round matchup against the Pacers. The Raptors are fighting tooth-and-nail just to advance past the eighth-seeded Wizards.
Any of those teams could feasibly knock off Philly in either the conference semifinals or conference finals, but no Eastern Conference team will exit the first round feeling better about itself than the 76ers. Through Thursday, they had the fourth-best net rating (plus-8.0) of any playoff team, trailing only the Warriors, Pelicans and Rockets. The Warriors are the lone team with a better defensive rating than the 76ers (101.6), even though Embiid missed the first two games of the playoffs.
In a year where the Philadelphia Eagles and Villanova each won their respective sports’ championships, could the 76ers be next? With Meek Mill now able to root them on in person, we can’t rule it out.