This season has been weird. I don’t just mean ‘Sixersy’ weird, because what’s a season without some unexplainable story lines out of LOST? (What happened to you Markelle? Why didn’t we get more Mr. Eko?)
The flip from tanktastic rebuild to ‘okay let’s win now’ has been difficult to handle at various points of this season. Just caring about the end result of a game has been more stressful than I remembered. Like a coffee sabbatical, after being cold-turkey for so long, is the reaction to game-to-game results just hypersensitivity? In addition, I expect this team to win. When they (seemingly) blow a 2nd half lead (every game), I experience some legitimate anger.
Raised expectations seem to be the obvious explanation for everything. With better young talent, supposedly-well-fitting veteran cogs, a conference in flux, and, most importantly, a potential superstar growing in-house, there was already some expectation that this team was going to take a leap out of the cellar of the NBA. This combined with the fact that the organization has been pumping out the message of playoffs or bust, it’s not surprising that expectations have been overshadowing the realty of this year. I think LB alum and the Athletic’s Derek Bodner put it best.
I honestly think Embiid's brilliance can make people forget how young/inexperienced/incomplete this roster is.— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) January 23, 2018
I also think the organization repeatedly saying "our goal is winning", while their transactions say "but really our goal is 2018" impacts this.
For better or worse, the 2017-2018 Philadelphia 76ers are in a funny limbo of playing the short and long term game. Every win is validation of the players and coaching towards the playoff goal. Every loss is criticism and questioning of whether those same coaches and players are the real answer long-term. Then again, diving so hard into overreactions is very Philadelphia, so it seems kind of perfect.
Speaking of overreactions, fresh off an All-Star snubbing, Ben Simmons transformed into the Incredible Hulk against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday. A man on a mission, in just 22 minutes he posted a triple-double and the team followed his lead in a wire-to-wire double-digit drubbing of a Bulls team that’s played better of late. On the whole, after a difficult December, Simmons has become aggressive in finding his spots and utilizing his size and strength to punish defenders. I, for one, welcome our new ‘All-Star Snubbed’ overlord.
Meanwhile, Joel Embiid, Team Steph ALL STAR STARTER, continues to be a two-way terror and the ultimate engine that drives this team’s success. Even when it seems like JoJo looks “off”, he puts up amazing ho-hum stats. The fact that he still hasn’t played a full season worth of games and is THIS impactful, is still incomprehensible. His evolution is evident as his recognition of double teams and passing acumen have gotten progressively better. For as weird as this season has been with expectations and reality, it’s primarily due to Joel and Ben that the team is not only in the playoff picture, but on the verge of over-taking some struggling Eastern Conference foes in the standings. Hello, LeBron? Hello, hosting a home play-off series?
While January Sixers have been a delight, the team will begin a difficult 4 game road stretch taking on the Spurs, Bucks, Thunder, and Nets (who are also playing some really good ball as of late, #FreeJah?).
Tonight, the Sixers will travel down to San Antonio to take on a Spurs team that’s been in the headlines for their own injury concerns. The Kawhi Leonard saga rivals that of any Sixers tribulation both in its severity and mystery. That it’s rumored to have caused friction within the organization is remarkable considering we’re talking about Gregg Popovich and Spursian culture. Add in the relatively recent off-season tension with LaMarcus Aldridge and questionable player transactions over the past year and a half, this may not be the same Spurs team we’ve feared for about two decades.
Now, that’s not to downplay them. Even with the differences, the Spurs are still 3rd in the Western Conference. With many of their major players cycling in-and-out, the Spurs B-team is still a force to be reckoned with and has kept them afloat. While Brett Brown notched his first win against his mentor a few weeks ago, Popovich probably isn’t looking to hand his disciple another W. The Spurs are just one of those teams that can dominate others as a result of good defense and ball movement, even without superstar performance (No shade, Aldridge has been great this season). It’s no wonder why Brett’s adopted a similar system in Philadelphia!
I can already feel a 2nd half collapse in my bones! Will another prodigious effort from the Sixers two young stars be enough to propel them and continue their magical January? We’ll find out
on the next episode of Dragon Ball Z tonight.
- Date: January 26, 2018
- Time: 8:30 PM EST
- Place: AT&T Center
- TV: NBC Sports Philadelphia
- Philadelphia: Ben Simmons, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Joel Embiid
- San Antonio: Dejounte Murray, Kyle Anderson, Danny Green, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol (?)
- Philadelphia: Markelle Fultz, Furkan Korkmaz, and J.J. Redick are all OUT. Jerryd Bayless is questionable. Trevor Booker is a taller TJ McConnell.
- San Antonio: Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobli and Rudy Gay are all OUT.