Can Sixers finally crush the weight of expectation and reach Eastern Conference Finals in 2023?

Joel embiid
Boston Celtics’ Jayson Tatum, left, makes his move to the basket against Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 4, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

The Philadelphia 76ers are playoff-bound for the sixth season in a row. A lot has changed since 2017, when they made the postseason for the first time since 2012, but one sentiment has remained constant throughout – Joel Embiid’s ascent to stardom is being wasted.

It’s time for the Sixers to capitalize on Joel Embiid’s dominance

After an explosive 2022 campaign, it appears as though this might finally be the season that Joel Embiid wins the MVP award. It’s an accolade that has evaded the Cameroonian for far too long, with Embiid forever being in the conversation but not getting the respect he deserves. But an average of 33.3 PPG which leads the league in scoring, and 10 boards per game which ranks 7th, has been enough to topple Nikola Jokic as far as the betting odds are concerned. As vindicating as this season has been, it should also ring an Alarm bell for Doc Rivers that this window won’t last forever.

Embiid has carried the Sixers through heartbreak and hardship. From buzzer-beating heroics that rug-pulled jubilation from the City of Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals to the games against Atlanta that scarred just about every Philadelphia sports fan in existence.

The one constant through this tumultuous ride has been the unrelenting dominance of Joel Embiid, whose sheer force of will has been enough to push the team past drama-filled windows, coaching changes, whatever happened to the Colangelo Twitter account, and a Jimmy Butler blowup. When all is said and done, Embiid is the heartbeat of this team, but he isn’t getting any younger, and Diamonds aren’t forever.

He isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and he’s aging like a fine wine, but that doesn’t mean that the window for a Championship is going to remain open.

Will the trend come to an end?

The Sixers have fallen short of the mark in every playoff appearance since 2017 and haven’t reached an Eastern Conference Final since 2000-2001. They have the best player in the entire league on their roster and he’s been joined by another elite player in James Harden. The two have complemented each other extremely well and with the likes of Tyrese Maxey alongside developing at a fantastic rate, there is no reason that this team shouldn’t make a Finals run.

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) shoots next to Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, March 25, 2023, in Phoenix. The Suns won 125-105. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

We’ve seen this Sixers team crush the Celtics. We’ve seen them bruise the Bucks. We’ve seen Embiid dismantle Jokic in a battle of MVP candidates. Once again, the foundations of a playoff contender are there, but they have to tie it all together when it matters most.

It’s not ‘Championship or bust’ for this Sixers team, but to finally get past the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals would be something embraced by a fanbase that has watched its beloved franchise shoot itself in the foot time and time again. Maybe this time it’s different. Perhaps this team is different.

There’s only one way to find out, but with the league’s most dominant player at their disposal along with a strong supporting cast and debatably the strongest bench unit they’ve had under Doc Rivers, the time is now to silence the critics, buck the trends, and shock the system.

AP Photo/Chris Szagola