The Philadelphia 76ers are 14-6, tied for the fifth best record in the NBA, and sit atop the Atlantic Division, leading the second place Boston Celtics by four and half games. However; fans, analysts, writers, bloggers still question the team's legitimacy, and rightfully so. To this point, they've played the easiest schedule in the league (combined .398 winning percentage) and have exactly two wins against teams above .500 – the Hawks and Pacers.
The Sixers also 0-4 in games decided by seven points or less and 0-2 in overtime, so not only are they unproven against the league's elite, but they have yet to show the ability to win a close game.
Beginning tomorrow night when they host Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic, the Sixers will face eight teams (six at home) whose combined record is 102-59. That's good a .634 winning percentage, which would easily qualify as the NBA's most difficult schedule if sustained for a full season.
@ Atlanta (back-to-back)
vs. San Antonio
@ Cleveland (back-to-back)
We'll have more on these games individually as they present themselves, but as of right now all eight of the Sixers' opponents are relatively healthy. San Antonio is without Manu Ginobli and Atlanta is without Al Horford, but they've been playing without them a while, and Jameer Nelson won't play tomorrow, but he's not very good anyway. It's unclear whether Nikola Vucevic will play in any of these games, but it sounds like Spencer Hawes – who's missed the last seven games – will try to give it a go tomorrow night.
Orlando will be playing the Sixers in the second of a back-to-back, as will the the Cavs, but the six other teams will be rested and healthy, so no excuses if the Sixers win.
I'm predicting an optimistic 5-3 record during this stretch. Anything more I'll be ecstatic, anything less I'll feel like "They are who we thought they were". There's going to be a few close games mixed in here and maybe even an overtime game or two, which makes me nervous. These are good teams, with good players and good records. Let's hope the Sixers are up for the challenge.
Buckle up kiddies, it's gonna get bumpy. I hope your seat on the bandwagon is secure, because in two weeks, after eight games, the basketball world will finally and definitively be able to answer the question, "Are the Philadelphia 76ers for real?"