The season is young, but we don’t need to sugarcoat anything here at the Houdini. The road to the NBA Finals will go through Philadelphia for the Boston Celtics…and they need to plan accordingly.
The reigning NBA champions reside in the Eastern Conference, and yet the Toronto Raptors aren’t the team the Boston Celtics need to prepare to get through en route to an NBA Finals appearance.
That would be the only undefeated team remaining in the NBA: the Philadelphia 76ers. Coincidentally, the Sixers were the one team to defeat the Celtics early on this season.
Needless to say, they are the achilles heel of the winningest franchise in basketball history. And it makes sense why.
The Celtics’ biggest problem so far has undoubtedly been the center position. Like the Houdini forecasted before the season, and has incessantly said since, the five-spot is an issue that could ultimately sink the team.
Luckily, the center spot isn’t preventing the team from fulfilling its preseason expectations of being a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference. At this point, it’s likely the team finishes in the top-three, with only Philly and the Milwaukee Bucks looking to be in the same weight class as the 2019-20 Boston Celtics.
If the team is to win anything of significance, it is going to take major improvements from the pivot. While that can theoretically come internally, the odds are high that the quintet of Enes Kanter, Daniel Theis, Robert Williams, Vincent Poirier and Tacko Fall isn’t enough to overcome a dominant Philadelphia 76ers front-court.
What makes Philly so dominant is the talent of their two All-Star centers. Though Al Horford plays alongside Joel Embiid in the starting lineup, the team never needs to have anything but a top-10 center on the floor.
Having that luxury gives the 76ers the opportunity to play their style. So far, wins for Philadelphia haven’t come from running opponents off the floor offensively. Instead, they have propelled themselves using a defense that ranks in the top-five in both steals and blocks. In fact, the Sixers are ranked outside the top-five in every shooting category.
The Boston Celtics need to adjust their personnel to match Philly’s overwhelming size across the lineup (Josh Richardson is the shortest player at six-foot-six). Having Jayson Tatum and/or Gordon Hayward is a mismatch in many ways, but if the team can’t come close to matching up against Joel Embiid, there is no chance for anything beyond shallow regular season wins.
Remember, Boston has defeated the Knicks twice. As impressive as they have looked, they failed a massive test opening night in Philadelphia.
Philly has yet to lose, and probably won’t do much losing this year. Now is when employing Jayson Tatum at the 4 will work, because come April, the game will tighten. Until that happens, Philadelphia is the team with two All-Star bigs and no end to their reign in sight.
Milwaukee, Toronto and the Miami Heat are all projected to be top-tier teams in the Eastern Conference during the 2019-20 campaign. However, if the Boston Celtics wish to set their sights on reaching their first NBA Finals since 2010, they must hone in on finding a way to matchup and game-plan against the towering lineup that is the Philadelphia 76ers.