Ben Simmons says the next goal for the 76ers is to get past the Celtics

Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics - Game One

The Philadelphia 76ers failed to land a marquee free agent this summer but their focus for the 2018-19 season hasn't changed. 

If anything, LeBron James' departure from the Eastern Conference only serves to enhance their championship aspirations. 

The Sixers were keen to lure the four-time MVP to Philly but seeing him head to the west was the next best thing. 

It opens up a realistic path to the conference finals and possibly beyond. 

But they know they're likely to have to go through the Boston Celtics to claim a place in the NBA Finals next year. 

A rivalry is brewing

The two teams played out an exciting playoff series last season with the C's winning in five games. 

It was a feisty series and it could be the start of a rivalry between two talented young contenders in the east. 

Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers - Game Four

Having suffered elimination at the hands of Boston in the postseason, Ben Simmons accepts that they're the team to beat next year. 

"We've got to get past Boston, those are the guys at the top right now. Beating them, that's our next goal," said Simmons, NBA Australia's James McKern.

"Obviously getting further than the second round and winning the Eastern Conference finals and then moving on to the Finals (are the team's other goals)."

The Celtics dispatched the 76ers without the services of both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, while their opponents were at full strength.

Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics - Game Five

With a healthy roster next season, the Celts deserve to be installed as the favourites in the east. 

The matchups between Philadelphia and Boston will be marquee affairs next year and the NBA has strategically placed some of their meetings on the schedule.

Two of their encounters will take place on Christmas Day and Martin Luther King Day, the two biggest regular-season slates in the league. 

Still reason for optimism

There is some disappointment among Sixers fans that the team wasn't able to attract a superstar as they saw LeBron and Paul George sign elsewhere and a potential trade for Kawhi Leonard not materialise.

2018 NBA Summer League - Las Vegas - Detroit Pistons v Los Angeles Lakers

With Simmons and Joel Embiid, however, they have two young stars of their own who will allow them to remain competitive. 

Aside from acquiring Wilson Chandler in a trade with the Denver Nuggets, they'll have largely the same roster that won 52 games last season after re-signing veteran duo J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson. 

Speaking to ESPN earlier this month, Embiid said their approach for the upcoming campaign won't change. 

Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers - Game Four

"The approach doesn't change. Still the same. We're just going to do our thing," he said, per ESPN's Ian Begley.

With the east becoming wide open, the 76ers are ready to seize their opportunity.

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