The Sixers' plan to make this work: Star power and simple play

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And when 76ers owner Josh Harris was asked by ESPN's Jackie MacMullan about the possibility of a first-round matchup against the Boston Celtics, he could've waved off any real concern about an early playoff exit.

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"It would be problematic," Harris said. "Very problematic. It would not be what we're playing for.4

"We'd be unhappy. I'd be unhappy. The city would be unhappy. We're going to work hard to make sure that doesn't happen."

Less than two years removed from being one of the worst teams in the league, the Sixers are making it clear that competing for championships is the only acceptable standard. But the top of the Eastern Conference features three other teams -- the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Celtics -- with those same aspirations. All four will enter the playoffs walking a perilously high tightrope with significant consequences for those that fail to make it across safely.

"We get it," head coach Brett Brown told ESPN. "We understand fully this is why we started what we started. It's really, in my eyes, that simple."china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have blossomed into the cornerstones of Philadelphia's roster. They're the reasons why Brand so aggressively pursued star talent in his opening months on the job in blockbuster trades for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. That enviable star power has placed Brown and the coaching staff in a position that rarely works: remaking an ambitious team on the fly after a marquee addition.

Arguably the last time these kinds of moves led directly to a championship was 2004, when Rasheed Wallace wound up with the Detroit Pistons and spurred that team to a title. Integrating one star is difficult enough. Philadelphia has to integrate two -- and develop a bench that features several players (Jonathon Simmons, Mike Scott, James Ennis, Boban Marjanovic) who were not there at the start of February.

As Brown correctly says, Philadelphia is working with its third team this season. Markelle Fultz, Robert Covington and Dario Saric were starting alongside Simmons and Embiid for the first team during training camp. Then came the second iteration following the Butler trade. Now there are the Sixers and their Phantastic 5, along with that makeshift bench and no Fultz. (Yes, there have been many complaints about this nickname. So, a challenge: Come up with a better one. I'm all ears.)

Saying that is one thing. Doing it is another. Butler, Harris and JJ Redick will be free agents this summer. So, too, will the new additions to the bench. They've been thrown together in a midseason chemistry experiment like few have tried before -- one made more difficult by Embiid missing the past several games with knee soreness and Marjanovic now out for an extended period with a knee injury of his own. And while there has been plenty of focus on the star power of Philadelphia's starting five, the limitations of the second unit from a talent standpoint are easy to see.

Marjanovic can terrorize opposing centers, but in the right matchup he can be run off the court. Scott can be a lethal shooter then give away just as many points as he scores. Ennis and Simmons were castoffs from the Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic -- two teams with playoff aspirations of their own.

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