The Eastern Conference — and the NBA in general — is pretty wide open this season. Any of the top teams can easily go on a run to the conference finals and even the NBA Finals. Of those top teams that have a chance to make some noise in the bubble are the Philadelphia 76ers. Led by Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, the Sixers certainly have the talent to go the distance. However, there is a chance that their worst nightmare could be coming true — Victor Oladipo could play for the Indiana Pacers.
Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and the Philadelphia 76ers struggled this year
Coming off a season where they lost to the eventual champion Toronto Raptors in seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, expectations were high for the Philadelphia 76ers this season. This was especially the case with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James both being in the Western Conference.
However, they struggled at times before the league suspended its season. The Sixers have a 39-26 record this season, which is tied for the fifth-best record in the Eastern Conference. They were atrocious on the road this year too, going 10-24 away from Philadelphia.
What they can be excited about right now, though, is that Simmons is healthy. The 2016 No. 1 pick was hurt with a lower back injury before the NBA suspended its season. He is averaging 16.7 points per game this season to go with 8.2 assist and 7.8 rebounds.
So, with a healthy Simmons to go with Tobias Harris (19.4 points per game) and Embiid (23.4 points per game and 11.8 rebounds), the Sixers have a good shot at making some noise in the Eastern Conference.
The Pacers have been a nice surprise this year
The Pacers weren’t supposed to be fighting for a four or five seed this season. Star guard Victor Oladipo ruptured the quad tendon in his right knee during the 2018-19 season. He then did not play until Jan. 29 this season.
Despite Oladipo — who was an All-Star in 2017-18 and 2018-19 — only playing in 13 games this season, the Pacers are somehow 39-26. They are the team tied with the Sixers for the fifth-best record.
Their success has been in large part because of T.J. Warren (18.7 points per game), Domantas Sabonis (18.5 points per game and 12.4 rebounds), and Malcolm Brogdon (16.3 points per game and 7.1 assists).
The thought was, though, that bringing Oladipo back — who averaged 23.1 points per game in 2017-18 — could lead to the team going on a deep run in the playoffs. That was until the NBA suspended its season.
Victor Oladipo might still play for the Pacers in the bubble
Oladipo initially told Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium that he wasn’t planning on playing in the bubble. This was because he wanted to focus on rehabbing his injuries.
“I really want to play, and as a competitor and teammate this is tearing me apart,” Oladipo said to Charania, according to Bleacher Report. “I feel like I’m at a great place in my rehab and getting closer and closer to 100 percent. With all the variables … I just can’t get my mind to being fully comfortable in playing.”
However, now Charania reports that there is a “growing belief” that Oladipo will play. This is following some strong practices with the team. Oladipo, despite his decision, traveled with the Pacers to Orlando, according to Bleacher Report.
Oladipo playing could be Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid’s worst nightmare
Sure, the Sixers are also healthy and have a chance to go on a run in the playoffs. However, if Oladipo doesn’t play for the Pacers, the Sixers have a higher chance of finding success in Orlando.
The Pacers and 76ers will fight for the five seed in the seeding games. They both also have a chance at the four seed. The Sixers, however, automatically have less of a chance at getting the four or five seeds if Oladipo plays.
Additionally, with them both only being two games back of the Miami Heat for the four seed, they could easily play each other in the first round of the playoffs. That is if one of them ends up with the four seed, and the other gets the five. The Sixers certainly don’t want to play a team with three guys who are averaging over 16 points per game this year, and Oladipo, who can score over 20 a night when healthy.
Yes, Simmons, Embiid, and the Sixers can definitely make some noise once play resumes. With the way they have struggled at times, though, an Oladipo-led Pacers team can certainly ruin their dreams of winning an NBA championship.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference