Preview capsule for the Philadelphia-Atlanta Eastern Conference semifinal series that starts Sunday:
No. 1 PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (49-23, 4-1) vs. No. 5 ATLANTA HAWKS (41-31, 4-1)
Season series: 76ers, 2-1.
Story line: MVP finalist Joel Embiid’s knee is the biggest question. The Philadelphia center has a small meniscus tear, a problem that could get much bigger if he plays. The Hawks are playing their best ball of the season after ousting New York in five games and have a chance to reach the conference finals for just the second time in the last 50 years.
Key matchup: Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons vs. Atlanta’s Trae Young. It’s unclear how much time Simmons will spend guarding Young, and Simmons’ role will change if Embiid can’t play or is limited. But they’ll see each other plenty when Young tries to get the ball into the paint, and those are the moments when Simmons — a lockdown defender — will have to rise to the challenge.
Injury watch: Embiid’s status cannot be understated. With him this season, the 76ers are 42-13. Without him, they are 11-11.
Numbers of note: Philadelphia was one of two teams to beat Atlanta by at least 20 points twice this season. Utah was the other, though it should be noted that the Hawks were missing key players in both of those big losses to the 76ers. … Young averaged 29 points in two games against the 76ers. Embiid played in all three regular-season games and averaged 19.7 points while playing only 24.3 minutes. … Simmons shot 12 for 15 against the Hawks this season.
Prediction: It all depends on Embiid. If he can play, 76ers in 6. If not, Hawks in 6.
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