7:00 PM EST, NBA TV – Line: 76ers -4, Over/Under: 223.5
With the Playoffs just over a week away, Playoff Seeding has yet to be decided as a pair of teams jockeying for power in the Eastern Conference battle in the City of Brotherly Love, as the red-hot Philadelphia 76ers play host to the 3-Time East Champion Cleveland Cavaliers from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After arguably one of the most Soap Opera-like Seasons in the history of the game, the Cavaliers (49-30, T-3rd in Eastern Conference) are peaking at the right time on a variety of fronts, while many of their contemporaries in the East have been in a downward slope. First and foremost, the team is getting healthier, what with the return of Kevin Love (17.5 PTS, 45.5% FG, 40.7% 3FG, 9.4 REB, 1.7 AST, 0.7 STL, 0.4 BLK, 22.4 PER), who had missed Twenty Consecutive Games with a Broken Hand. The All-Star Forward’s return has coincided with their recent torrid form, as Cleveland has gone 8-1 with him back in the Lineup. Needless to say, this way a huge turn events for a team that sorely needed to build the requisite chemistry for another long Playoff Run, particularly after turning over their Roster at the Trade Deadline, acquiring the likes of George Hill (9.9 PTS, 44.4% FG, 35.1% 3FG, 2.8 REB, 2.9 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.6 BLK, 12.0 PER), Rodney Hood (11.2 PTS, 44.2% FG, 35.7% 3FG, 2.6 REB, 1.4 AST, 0.7 STL, 12.6 PER), Jordan Clarkson (13.3 PTS, 46.5% FG, 400.% 3FG, 2.2 REB, 1.8 AST, 0.7 STL, 16.0 PER), and Larry Nance Jr. (9.7 PTS, 57.1% FG, 7.3 REB, 1.2 AST, 1.4 STL, 0.8 BLK, 22.0 PER) in a slew of Deals. It sure looks as if all these new faces have taken to each other, for since the Trade Deadline the Cavs have gone 17-8, setting themselves up for whomever they may meet in the First Round of the Playoffs, with designs on a fourth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. Of course, building chemistry for such a trek also includes the Coaching Staff, which welcomed back Tyronn Lue after the Head Coach spent the past two weeks on a self-imposed sabbatical to address lingering health issues. Now, we can only imagine the kind of stress that Lue has been (and continues to be) under coaching this cadre of personalities, but one can’t help but feel that his return may been the final piece of the puzzle. The skipper returned to the sideline in Cleveland’s dramatic comeback 119-115 victory over the Wizards last night, a matchup that served as a potential Playoff Preview for both teams. After jumping out to a comfortable 39-26 lead in the First Quarter, the hosts found themselves trailing by as many as Nine Points late in the final stanza, only to be saved by none other than LeBron James (27.4 PTS, 54.2% FG, 36.6% 3FG, 8.7 REB, 9.1 AST, 1.4 STL, 0.9 BLK, 28.5 PER), who continued to stake his claim for yet another MVP Award. James at one point scored Eleven of Thirteen Points down the stretch, as Washington continued to blow chance after chance when in possession. The 4-Time MVP scored a game-high Thirty-Three Points on an efficient 12-of-20 Shooting from the Field (60.0%), along with Nine Rebounds and Fourteen Assists, while five other Cavaliers ended the night in double-figures. As a team, Lue’s charges shot a blistering 54.5% from the Floor, including 13-of-27 from beyond the Arc (48.1%), while owning a significant advantage from the Charity Stripe, where they knocked down 22-of-28 Free-Throws (78.6%), outscoring the Visitors by Ten Points. Again, we can’t stress enough just important this victory was in terms of building their confidence, for out of their last Eight Wins, Thursday’s Triumph over the Wizards was their fourth over a potential Playoff Opponent; Cleveland disposed of the East’s No. One Seed Toronto twice in that span, while also handing Milwaukee a loss to boot, with tonight’s meeting with surging Philadelphia just one more litmus test before the Postseason begins.
Meanwhile, we’ve said it before, but it seems that The Process is finally paying off for the 76ers (48-30, T-3rd in Eastern Conference), who after one of the most miserable runs in the history of sports, have emerged a team with loads of potential and promise. Brett Brown’s charges are peaking at the right time, folks, for while the Raptors have begun to stumble down the stretch, and the Celtics sustain injury after injury, this team is making the most of the opportunity granted them as they continue to climb the rungs of the Eastern Conference Playoff Ladder. Philadelphia has covered a wealth of ground over the past few months, going 31-11 since the turn of the New Year, including a current 12-Game Winning Streak that has vaulted them into a Tie with their opponent tonight for the Third Seed in the East. With just four games left to play in the Regular Season, the Sixers have the opportunity to win Fifty Games for the first time since the 2000-2001 Campaign, which would be just short of the total of victories that they’ve accumulated in the previous Three Years combined. And if that’s not impressive enough for you, they’ve won the last four in a row without the services of All-Star Center Joel Embiid (22.9 PTS, 48.3% FG, 30.8% 3FG, 11.0 REB, 3.2 AST, 0.6 STL, 1.8 BLK, 22.9 PER), who suffered a fractured Orbital Bone under his Left Eye back on March 28th in a 118-101 rout of the New York Knicks. Given the towering Cameroon Native’s Injury History, Brown and his Staff are taking every precaution with his Rehab, leaving the possibility of him missing the First Round of the Playoffs an option. Of course, the Seven-Footer has played no small part in Philadelphia’s success on the defensive end of the court, allowing 105.1 Points (11th Overall) on a league-best 43.4% Shooting from the Field (1st Overall), including 34.1% from beyond the Arc (2nd Overall), all the while securing 47.2 Rebounds (1st Overall), and permitting 21.6 Assists (5th Overall). However, as good as Embiid has been this season, the biggest component of this team’s success thus far, particularly their current run, has been the emergence of last year’s No. One Overall Pick, and Rookie of the Year Frontrunner, Ben Simmons (15.8 PTS, 54.33% FG, 8.1 REB, 8.1 AST, 1.7 STL, 0.8 BLK, 19.8 PER), who has shown flashes of being the franchise-altering superstar that the 76ers have been starving for. After missing the entirety of last season with a litany of injuries, the versatile 6-10, 230 lbs Point Forward has been a revelation this season, displaying a skill level and feel for the game far beyond his years. In fact, if you wish to pontificate his ceiling, look no further than the man he’ll be guarding for long stretches of tonight’s contest. And that’s not a ridiculous statement, folks, for this kid hasn’t even begun to imagine his ceiling just yet. Just look at what he’s been able to do over the past month and some change; since March began, Simmons has been the consummate Playmaker, averaging 13.4 Points on a stellar 58.5% Shooting from the Field, along with 9.3 Rebounds, 10.4 Assists, 1.3 Steals, and 0.7 Blocks, as the 76ers have gone 16-3 over that span. When last we saw him, he was busy facilitating for his teammates in a 115-108 victory at the Detroit Pistons Wednesday Night. If the value in true Stars lies in how high they elevate those around them, then the Sophomore from Australia could be a Supernova; even without Embiid, Philadelphia saw six different players score in double-figures, with Simmons calmly posting totals of Sixteen Points on 7-of-10 Shooting (70.0%), Six Rebounds, Seven Assists, and a Steal, teeing up the likes of sharpshooters JJ Redick (16.8 PTS, 45.8% FG, 41.7% 3FG, 2.5 REB, 3.0 AST, 0.5 STL, 15.6 PER), who scored a team-high Twenty-Five Points (5-of-7 3FG), and Marco Belinelli (12.9 PTS, 51.1% FG, 38.4% 3FG, 1.6 REB, 1.5 AST, 0.7 STL, 13.6 PER), who added another Nineteen Points (4-of-7 3FG) off the Bench. Furthermore, the Ball Movement was phenomenal for the Visiting Side, who assisted on a staggering Thirty-Two of their Forty-Four Field Goals.