The Philadelphia 76ers host the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and the hosts might need to play without Joel Embiid for a third straight time.
The Sixers got a routine gentleman’s sweep in the first round, beating the Wizards 4-1, but Joel Embiid getting injured in Game 4 of that series is a real concern. The Sixers actually went on to lose that Game 4, but eventually closed things out in the next one at home. All in all, they weren’t impressive at all without their star big man, and that’s no surprise.
The Hawks put on a show in the first round, giving the Knicks a sound beating. It was 4-1, but Atlanta was so dominant that it felt more like a sweep. It was really nice to see the young core of the Hawks playing so well, and it remains to be seen if they can repeat that performance against a tougher opponent – because the Knicks are not that good.
Injury report: Embiid is not officially out of Game 1, but it’s highly unlikely he will play. Besides him, there are no new injuries for either team.
The Hawks are feeling good about themselves right now, they are playing well, and they can take advantage if Embiid does not play in Game 1.
Philly is not the same team without Embiid. He is one of the players which has the biggest impact on his team in this league, not only because of his obvious quality, but because he is the system. Philly is lost without him and stats show that too: The Sixers are 39-12 with Embiid and 10-11 without him this season. That’s a huge difference, and it’s so big, that even an untrained naked eye can immediately see how much weaker this team is without their star.
In the previous round Philly was cruising against the Wizards until Joel got injured in Game 4. They then proceeded to lose that game and struggled for a half in Game 5 as well, before running off with it at the end. That was against an awful Wizards team. Really, the Wizards were by far the worst team in these playoffs (yes, worse than the Knicks), even if they get good press because they have two flamboyant stars in Westbrook and Beal.
Listen, the Sixers will still have the best player on the floor in Game 1, Ben Simmons (but he’s not a scorer), and you could argue that Tobias Harris will be the third best. But if you count the 7 top players on the two teams combined, the Hawks probably have 5 of them. They are deeper and better balanced.
Look for the Sixers to struggle creating offense like they always do without Embiid. And their defense will have a big challenge both on the perimeter (where the Hawks excel offensively) and in the paint, given that Howard will be the only big to oppose Capela, and he always gets in foul trouble.
I feel the Hawks should be the favorites as long as Embiid is not out there, they are playing very well right now, are confident, and know they will have a huge chance to snatch home court advantage in Game 1. It’s not easy to win in Philly, the Sixers are great at home (32-7 overall this season!), but Atlanta was able to handle a super hostile environment in the first round, when they completely shut down Madison Square Garden.
I’m backing the Hawks to win straight up. Listen, if Embiid ends up playing, everything changes. Maybe you want to wait for the official news about his availability. But I’d be shocked if he plays, he’s not okay and it would be meaningless for the Sixers to risk him so early in the series, he also didn’t have any full training sessions. So, that being said, I am betting earlier to get better odds. Prediction: Philadelphia 76ers – Atlanta Hawks 102 – 110.