2017-18 76ERS: Playoffs the target for up-and-coming 76ers

October 17, 2017 GMT

The Philadelphia 76ers will visit the Washington Wizards in their season opener on Wednesday (7 p.m., ESPN). The Sixers have created a lot of interest throughout the NBA. Although the Sixers finished with a 28-54 record last season, the question is, can they take the next step? That would be getting to the NBA playoffs.

The Sixers made some key moves during the offseason. Philly signed free agent shooting guard J.J. Redick to bolster their outside shooting. Power forward Amir Johnson was acquired to give them some strong inside play and experience.

Both players join rookie guards Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, who were No. 1 picks overall in the 2016 and 2017 NBA Drafts, respectively. The Sixers have a solid small forward with Robert Covington who can score, defend and rebound.

However, if the Sixers are going to put together a good season and land a spot in the playoffs it’s going to be on the play of center Joel Embiid, who has played just 31 games in three years. Embiid, a 7-foot, 250-pounder, is coming off left knee surgery eight months ago. He has been sensational when healthy. Embiid averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks a game last year.

ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy feels Embiid has to stay healthy in order for the Sixers to get to the postseason.

“If Joel Embiid is able to remain healthy and I don’t know what that means — let’s say 70 games,” Van Gundy said during the ESPN NBA Conference call last week. “They’ll make the playoffs and he’s that good. He’s that dominant. And what I love about him is he’s got a competitive mean streak about him, too, that I think when you’re trying to break through a historic amount of losing that they’ve done. You need that one star that has a competitive streak to him.

“I like the addition of J.J. Redick. He’s a pro’s pro, puts a lot of shooting around their better players, can work off baseline screens. And then obviously Ben Simmons I haven’t seen yet, but obviously their size with him and Embiid on the floor, their length is terrific. They’re a really good team. And if Embiid stays healthy, they’ll make the playoffs.”

Power forward Dario Saric could help the Sixers as a starter or a reserve. Saric has developed a nice touch from the outside. He can take the ball to the basket, rebound and defend.

In the backcourt, Jerryd Bayless is a good ballhandler and outside shooter. Bayless provides the Sixers with some veteran leadership. Point guard T.J. McConnell could give the Sixers a lift off the bench with his hustle and ballhandling skills.

The Sixers home opener will be against the Boston Celtics at the Center on Friday at 7 p.m. Eight out of the Sixers first 10 games are against playoff teams. This could be a barometer of what kind of season the Sixers are going to have this year.