When the Philadelphia 76ers clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, they probably assumed that they’d have a relatively easy road through the first two rounds. After all, they’d avoided the two other championship contenders in the East: Brooklyn and Milwaukee, and with Joel Embiid running roughshod over the rest of the league, nobody else in the conference looked like they could touch them.
Well, now Embiid is fighting through an injury, and the Atlanta Hawks have grown into a lethal underdog that has already unseated the New York Knicks. The Hawks have a 31-12 record since March 1, better than Philly’s 30-12 mark in that span, and unlike the 76ers, they’re relatively close to full strength. This will be no cakewalk for the Eastern Conference’s top seed. Here’s how you can tune in as they attempt to stave off the surging Hawks.
(1) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (5) Atlanta HawksDate: Sunday, June 6 | Time: 1:00 p.m. ETLocation: Wells Fargo Center — Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaTV: TNT | Live stream: TNTOdds: ATL +120; PHI -140 | O/U: 220.5 (via William Hill Sportsbook)
Featured Game | Philadelphia 76ers vs. Atlanta Hawks
76ers: All eyes are on Joel Embiid as he attempts to play through a small tear in his meniscus. He is listed as questionable, right now, and will go through pre-game warmups before the 76ers decide whether or not he can play. If he can’t, how does Philadelphia respond? Do they go small with Matisse Thybulle as their fifth starter? Can they protect the rim without their MVP candidate, and can they generate offense late in games without his gravity all across the court?
If he can play, what does he look like? Is he on a minute limit? Is he compromised? Philadelphia might be able to beat Atlanta without the best version of Embiid, but Brooklyn and Milwaukee aren’t nearly as forgiving. Philadelphia will have to balance the need to win this series with Embiid’s health moving forward.
Hawks: Trae Young had a strong first-round series, but scoring on Derrick Rose and Reggie Bullock is one thing. Scoring on Simmons and Thybulle is quite another. Young will be blanketed by two of the best defenders in all of basketball in this series, and that’s going to shine a spotlight on Atlanta’s supporting cast.
Bogdan Bogdanovic couldn’t miss down the stretch in the regular season. He fell back to Earth against the Knicks. Danilo Gallinari’s playoff history is far from ideal. Watch for John Collins and Clint Capela to go at Philadelphia on the interior if Embiid is out. Size will be an advantage for the Hawks in that scenario, and if Simmons has to function as a center, attacking him has the added benefit of potentially getting him into foul trouble.
Making a pick here without know Embiid’s status is almost impossible, but if we assume that he’s unlikely to be his usual self, I’d lean Atlanta very slightly. They have more than enough shot-creation beyond Young to survive if Philly’s defenders slow him down, but the Sixers can’t say the same if they’re without Embiid. Pick: Hawks +2.5