Sixers' Weaknesses That Could Haunt Them in Playoffs

The Sixers look unbeatable right now.

Sixteen straight wins, the most ever by a team heading into the playoffs. Eight straight wins without Joel Embiid, their All-Star center. A triple-double machine in Ben Simmons. The youngest player ever to record a triple-double in Markelle Fultz (see story).

Still, the Sixers have a few weaknesses. In the playoffs, the Sixers' opponents (starting with the Heat in the first round) will scout them closely, and there are a few areas they'll try to exploit.

Early in the season, turnovers looked like the Sixers' Achilles heel. They rank last in the NBA with 16.5 turnovers per game. Their 16.1 turnover percentage is worst in the league as well, which shows that the high turnover numbers aren't just because the Sixers play at a fast tempo.

Fortunately for the Sixers, they earn back many of the points they give away, with 10.9 offensive rebounds per game, third in the league. It's also encouraging that the turnovers have recently decreased (just 13.3 per game during their winning streak), since it suggests that a nightmare 25-turnover night isn't very likely in the postseason.

That said, teams will know about the Sixers' turnover history. Ben Simmons will see a variety of looks from opposing defenses, and Joel Embiid will be faced with double teams that test his decision-making out of the post as soon as he returns.

Blowing big leads
Another early-season storyline that has lately disappeared. In the past couple months, it hasn't typically led to losses, but the Sixers have still shown a worrying tendency to let large leads slip.

On March 10, they let the Timberwolves cut a 27-point deficit to 10. They led by 28 points on March 30 against the Hawks, then won by just 10. And the Cavaliers nearly erased the Sixers' 30-point second-quarter lead last Friday.

Those examples are all nearly blown leads, yet as a larger trend this season, opponents will notice that the Sixers have occasionally taken their foot off the gas when they have a big lead.

The Sixers' primary ballhandler is a 55.8 percent free-throw shooter. Despite all the great qualities Simmons possesses, that's slightly worrying for a playoff team.

The Wizards are the only team that used a sustained version of Hack-A-Simmons in the regular season, as they put Simmons on the line 24 times in the fourth quarter alone on Nov. 30. Simmons went 12 for 24.

Brett Brown stuck with Simmons that game despite his struggles at the line, but would he feel extra pressure in the playoffs to take the rookie out if his poor foul shooting became a serious liability?

It doesn't seem likely that teams will turn to Hack-A-Simmons, but if somebody tries it once in the playoffs and Simmons fails to knock down his free throws, it could become an ugly subplot for the Sixers. 

Outside of Marco Belinelli, J.J. Redick, Amir Johnson, and Ersan Ilyasova, this will be the first time in the playoffs for every player in the Sixers' rotation. While it's hard to quantify the impact of that youth, players like Simmons and Fultz will have to learn about the playoffs on the fly.

Though the playoff veterans have been eager to share their knowledge - and the young guys have been trying to absorb everything they can to prepare - it's impossible to fully understand what playoff basketball means until you've actually been there. They'll be thrown into the fire soon enough.

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