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Round 2 series preview Q&A with Liberty Ballers

Who knows the team better than the bloggers that obsess over them?

2023 NBA Playoffs - Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Gearing up for the second round of the NBA Playoffs, Paul Hudrick of Liberty Ballers was kind enough to offer up a collaboration between the blogs. So here’s some questions that I had for Paul and his answers below.

1. So.... how’s the knee?

Well, according to Doc Rivers, not so great! There’s so much gray area here. The most common thing you hear is that return to play from a minor LCL sprain is one-to-two weeks with a brace (shoutout to my fiancé, whose expertise as an athletic trainer has been incredibly helpful covering this basketball team). Monday would be 11 days since Embiid suffered the injury in Game 3 against Brooklyn. If he’s back for Game 2 that would be almost two full weeks. The two things I’d note: 1. Doc is just a nickname and 2. Embiid has actually been listed as doubtful and played before. It’s a damn shame for Embiid. It felt like there’d been a greater sense of urgency and focus from him this regular season. The injury bug has bitten him in the second round yet again.

2. James Harden isn’t at his MVP peak anymore, but he’s still a force to be reckoned with. He averaged 21, 10.7, and 6.1 this season. How has the fit with Joel been and what should we expect from him this series?

Harden and Embiid have formed one of the better duos in Sixers history. The pick-and-roll was unstoppable for stretches this season and the Sixers had the best record in the NBA from December on largely because of that pair leading a supercharged offense. Harden took the role of floor general and was elite. Like Embiid, health is likely the biggest concern with Harden. The Beard was playing at a legitimate All-NBA level until an Achilles issue crept up in late March. In the first round against Brooklyn, Harden was pretty routinely able to get by his primary defender, but his finishing at the rim was unimaginably bad. Whether that’s health or mental or rhythm (because the looks were SO open) is unclear. Harden rediscovering the touch on his floater would be a massive boon. To be frank, I’m not sure what to expect out of Harden. His Sixers tenure has been so volatile. The highs have been very high and the lows have been very low.

3. Tell us about the Tyrese Maxey experience. From afar he seems like a really fun guy to root for (and a little terrifying to root against when he’s rolling).

Maxey is the current golden child in Philly sports. He can do no wrong. Doc often refers to him as a “sunshine guy” and for good reason. He’s easily the most affable player I’ve ever been around. And he works. This is a guy that fell to the Sixers because teams were scared off by his poor shooting numbers in college. Over the last two seasons, he’s been one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA. Pair that with his lightning speed and he’s a tough guard — though the Celtics didn’t experience that much this season! His only issue is that he’ll often defer to his superstar teammates. Derrick White enjoyed success against him, but I imagine Maxey will make a greater impact in this series than he did against Boston in the regular season. He can score in bunches and change games quickly.

4. Any wild predictions or bold takes?

Well, I would’ve told you before the postseason began that these teams are more evenly matched than people think. But with Embiid’s status very much in doubt and uncertainty around which version of Harden the Sixers will get, things feel much more tilted the Celtics’ way. Make no mistake, it would’ve taken near perfection for the Sixers to beat the Celtics if they were healthy, but I think they had a chance. My only “bold take” is (if the Sixers are at full strength) that their depth is much better than people realize. “Playoff P.J.” Tucker is a true phenomenon, De’Anthony Melton has been a godsend and Jalen McDaniels and Paul Reed add athleticism this team has seemingly never had during the Embiid era.

Thanks Paul! Here’s hoping everyone’s healthy and the best team wins. (My answers to Paul’s questions will be posted on Liberty Ballers when they are available)

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