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3 Things to look out for when the season continues after the All-Star break

All-Star break

76ers trading for James Harden

The Sixers are finally drama-free. Finally, Ben Simmons and his childish behavior are finally over, and now their championship aspirations look way better when you have two top players in Joel Embiid and James Harden.

The Sixers, currently 35-23 are on the clock. They want, and perhaps need, to seize advantage of an epic season so far from Joel Embiid. Embiid is playing at a beastly level, is a chore for all opposing teams in the paint, and has proved to be quite capable of being the centerpiece for a title team. Even before Harden’s arrival and without Simmons, Embiid has the Sixers 10 games over .500. That’s a credit to his hunger and desire to be the best. But if the previous seasons are anything to go by, we know Embiid has a long injury history. As the biggest star, you are expected to play 30+ minutes. With Andre Drummond gone, 76ers now no longer have a decent backup at center. Something that could prove to be a problem down to stretch, maybe even before we enter the playoffs.

Also, the Sixers lost Seth Curry, which cost them a valuable deep shooter. That puts more weight on Tyrese Maxey to continue his impressive season and maintain that same level throughout the playoffs. Last but not least, James Harden needs to improve slightly if the 76ers should have realistic chances to lift the trophy. He averages 22.5 PPG without Kyrie Irving and shoots only 33% behind the 3-point line. Something that potentially could ruin the 76ers if he doesn’t improve.

Brooklyn Nets trading for Ben Simmons

What we saw over the past three months was one of the few documented cases of a superstar NBA player refusing to report for reasons other than money. It was downright bizarre how Simmons stood his ground with the Sixers and gladly lost millions of dollars based on principle. The problem I see is that you don’t joke around with your mental health as Ben Simmons did in the last three months. But with a new team, will he improve from what we saw in last year’s playoffs.

Ben Simmons is no shooter, but at Nets, the problem will not be quite as bad as with the 76ers. The flaw in his game is minimized with the Nets for various reasons. Brooklyn brings plenty of shooters, with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Joe Harris when he returns with ankle problems, Patty Mills, and Seth Curry, former 76ers. Therefore, Simmons’ biggest, and really his only serious weakness, his shot will be a non-issue for the most part.

The Nets (31-28) need him to do what he does best: Shut down the other team’s bucket-getter, create shots for his own scorers, rebound and score off the dribble near the rim. This could be important against deep playoffs run teams like the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks. You could argue that with Ben Simmons and Seth Curry the team he plays for now is a better team than the 76ers. Without the hate from Philadelphia fans. But he will definitely still get heckled when he plays on the road. But the fire within to beat Philadelphia should be strong and a big advantage from the standpoint of the Brooklyn Nets.

How good will Golden State Warriors be when all starters are at 100%

There’s the logical assumption that the Warriors, once whole, can finally tap the accelerator and rise to the level of the league-leading Suns, who are 6 1/2 games ahead of Golden State in the West. Suns have been close to perfect against +0.500 teams and with Klay Thompson only coming back in December alongside Draymond Green’s injury mid-January GSW lost an important piece. With Draymond Green back in full fitness, GSW could be the team to expect big things from in the playoffs.

With only 23 regular-season games remaining, it’s quite possible the Warriors won’t hit their stride until the playoffs beckon, which is obviously not a bad thing. Coach Steve Kerr has a good team with the correct mixture of championship-tested veterans as well as young and frisky and athletic players filling out the rotation.

The Warriors’ defense has suffered lately, but that, too, can be fixed. Green is the obvious solution to the problem. Then there’s Klay Thompson. Before suffering his injury setbacks of the last few years, Thompson was a top-level defender and took the toughest backcourt assignments over Steph Curry.

The challenge for the Warriors is to lean on their proven winners — Curry, Dray, and Klay — while getting solid results from teammates who haven’t earned any playoff stripes. But as for any team, you can’t win a championship from your big three alone. Teammates such as Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole, Jonathan Kuminga, Otto Porter Jr. and Gary Payton II. Andrew Wiggens have, alongside Jordan Poole, been having great seasons and with the young starters coming through, the team has the depth to do a deep playoffs run.

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