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Philadelphia 76ers have been dominant with core four available

When healthy, the Philadelphia 76ers are an elite team.

The Philadelphia 76ers are 21-10 in the Jimmy Butler era, ranking top-five in net rating and emerging as a legitimate Eastern Conference contender. Depth issues are undeniable — Toronto, Boston and Milwaukee still hold the edge — but the Sixers have enough talent to make noise in the postseason.

As people continue to pile on the poor second unit, though, it’s worth noting the impact health has had on the Sixers’ recent struggles. Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick all missed time in the past month with minor injuries, leaving the Sixers shorthanded in certain matchups.

When at least one of the Sixers’ core four is missing, the Sixers are 4-5. The depth (or lack thereof) is exploited on an entirely new level when Amir Johnson or Furkan Korkmaz is running with the starting five. The Sixers just don’t have the ancillary firepower to make up for the loss of an All-Star talent.

Elton Brand should be working to fix that, especially with recent back issues highlighting Embiid’s massive workload. The Sixers’ biggest pieces aren’t injury-adverse, so adding quality reserves who can fill important minutes should top the front office’s priorities list.

Even with serious concerns regarding the bench, though, it’s worth noting how effective the Sixers are when healthy. They’re 17-5 when Embiid, Butler, Simmons and Redick are all available. The fit isn’t perfect, but all four play massive roles in the Sixers’ offense. They also put tremendous individual pressure on the opposing defense.

There’s an argument to be made that the Sixers boast three top-25 players, plus another borderline All-Star in Redick. The only other team with that much starpower is Golden State — the overwhelming title favorites.

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The Sixers won’t strike serious fear into the conference elites until the bench improves, but the talent is there. Embiid should get MVP love, even if James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo are overwhelming (and deserving) favorites. Things are trending in the right direction.

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