Is this the year for the Philadelphia 76ers?

Coming into the 2017-2018 season, the Philadelphia 76ers were expected to make a large leap, as they added this year’s first overall pick, Markelle Fultz, and last year’s number one pick, Ben Simmons, to their roster. While Simmons busted onto the scene and is the clear front runner for Rookie of the Year, Fultz has struggled with injury and has just returned to action recently.

However, this hasn’t slowed the young Sixers down one bit, as they surpassed what everyone imagined they could do and ended the season on fire.

Philadelphia is riding a hot streak of a franchise record of a 14-game win streak. This streak couldn’t have come at a better time, as the NBA Playoffs are here for 16 select teams — including the Sixers as the third seed in the East.

Although they are currently without their best player, Joel Embiid, they still have the youth and talent to match up with the top teams in the East.

The question on everyone’s mind though is how far can this team realistically make it?

The Sixers begin their playoff run with a first-round matchup with the Miami Heat. The Heat realistically don’t pose a large enough threat to take down the Sixers, even without star center Embiid. While the Heat play as a solid unit, they don’t have a dominant All-Star capable of taking over, not only a game, but an entire series.

Realistically the Heat could snatch a couple games from Philly, but with Embiid expected to return by the end of the series, Philly is the overwhelming favorite in this one.

In the second round, Philly would take on the winner of the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics series. While both of these matchups would favor the Sixers, Boston would represent a more favorable opponent, due to their the lack of a healthy superstar.

While they do offer young studs like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum alongside proven veteran Al Horford, their true star, Kyrie Irving, has confirmed he’ll miss the remainder of the season.

For Milwaukee, even though the Bucks are only the seventh seed, they still possess Giannis Antetokounmpo and avoiding him would be the best thing for Philly in a second-round matchup. The Bucks have all the traits necessary to be a contender, but have failed to put it all together and are an extreme case of underachievement.

Regardless of the opponent, Philly has too much firepower for either side and should be able to snatch up the series in no more than six games.

The third round is where things get tricky for Philly, as most scenarios would have them facing off against either the top-seeded Toronto Raptors, or against the heavily favored LeBron James. Both of these cases would pin the Sixers as clear underdogs, and would offer a slim chance to advance to the NBA Finals.

The Raptors possess the deepest roster in all the NBA, and offer a lethal one-two punch in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. They are very well coached, and they move the ball at an elite rate.

Facing them on the other side is James. James has been to seven straight Finals, and is always locked in this time of the year. Defeating him would be a historic achievement for this young club, but they might just be a year or two off of achieving that feat.

Even if the Sixers do shock one of these two juggernauts, they would still be facing a matchup against a full strength Golden State Warriors team, ready to defend their title, or the Houston Rockets who have been the best NBA team all year.

Even though it’s easy to predict the Sixers getting stopped short of the gold, an extended playoff run will only offer benefits for this club. The experience they will gain will only aid them in the coming years and give them a glimpse of what they’re truly capable of. Regardless of how far the Sixers go this year, for the foreseeable future this squad will be a contender to not only dethrone LeBron in the East, but capture the crown jewel of the entire NBA.

*Philly took Game 1 against the Heat 130-103.

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