The time is upon us, folks.
The beginning of what many of us have been circling our calendars for begins on Thursday when the Philadelphia 76ers go to Indianapolis to play the Pacers in the first of an absolutely ungodly stretch of games between January 17th and February 12th. In case you need to be reminded, here is that stretch:
- @ Indiana Pacers
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- Houston Rockets
- San Antonio Spurs
- @ Denver Nuggets
- @ Los Angeles Lakers
- @ Golden State Warriors
- @ Sacramento Kings
- Toronto Raptors
- Denver Nuggets
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Boston Celtics
There isn’t ONE EASY GAME in that stretch – not even Sacramento because they’re kind of good. As of now, the combined win percentage of that group is .612. The Sixers don’t play any back-to-backs, so that’s good, at least, but only one team will be on the second leg of a back-to-back (the game at Denver will be the Nuggets’ second of a back-to-back).
This is not the kind of stretch you want a team to go through when there is alleged team turmoil. (I’m not in the locker room, and I’m moderately skeptical of reports that cite “league sources”. Some trust them more than others, but I’m not one of them.)
Like the mighty Thanos when he dropped out of the sky to fight The Avengers, this stretch of games will test the Sixers. The Sixers are only 7-8 against the top-16 teams in USA Today’s Sagarin ratings (a great predictor, by the way, so folks should get on that). They’re not world beaters, but they’re not the Cleveland Cavaliers either (who are 4-20 against the Sagarin top-16).
As of today, the Sixers are 28-16 and fourth in the Eastern Conference. This upcoming portion of the schedule is going to make or break the season, and when I use the time stone, I foresee many possible outcomes (even one where the Sixers somehow go 12-0 in this stretch and establish complete dominance). I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but there is a universe that exists where this happens.
Theoretically, the Sixers can use one of three Infinity Stones during this stretch of games:
This is the best-case scenario. Somehow the Sixers go 9-3 or better in this 12 game stretch. To do that, the Sixers will have to win all of their home games and lose to only the Lakers and Warriors in California and the Nuggets in Denver. Going 7-0 at home isn’t out of the realm of possibility. The Sixers are 18-4 at home, and their numbers are all better inside the Wells Fargo Center: 117.7 PPG at home versus 111.5 PPG on the road; 48% FG at home versus 45% from the field.
It’ll be really hard to go undefeated at home considering the Rockets and Spurs are both surging as of the last two weeks or so. James Harden has been on a whole new plane of reality during the Rockets 14-4 stretch (40.6 PPG) that has gotten them to 4th in the West. The San Antonio Spurs are never all the way dead. Toronto and Denver are both the best teams in their respective conferences standings-wise. The Lakers have LeBron James, and Boston has beaten the Sixers twice already this season (albeit both games in Boston).
If the Sixers use this, then it’s because they want to fast forward to the end of the season and get it over with or maybe go backwards and start this stretch over.
Let’s say that the Sixers go 4-8 or worse. The season won’t be over, but the remainder of the season would look pretty bleak. The Sixers lose all of the road games and the majority of the home games. The team becomes completely unglued because of the alleged turmoil between Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid, and Brett Brown. It’s a complete disaster scenario, and Elton Brand goes into damage control.
At that point, it may be time to think about formatting this team like you would a computer hard drive with a virus. Wipe the thing clean and reinstall the operating system. You’ll lose all your data, but you’ll have a clean, running computer.
If this is the case, I don’t feel too good Mr. Stark.
That’s just too bleak. Moving on.
Honestly, this seems like the most likely scenario. The Sixers go something like 6-6 or 7-5 in that stretch and don’t lose any games by more than six points. They’re competitive the whole way and the trio of Embiid, Butler, and Simmons finally gels.
I’m a cautious optimist, but I firmly believe the Sixers can more than likely beat Indiana, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Denver on the road (second of a back-to-back for the Nuggets), Sacramento, the Lakers, and I really feel they’ll beat Boston at home on February 12th. They won’t beat Houston because Harden will go off for 50 or 60 points or something. The Lakers in Los Angeles will be tough, and the Warriors are the Warriors.
Toronto is the most complete team in the East, and the Sixers will lose to the Nuggets at home because Denver will be fresh at that point. This kind of reality might galvanize the team to the point where winning cures all (the doubt, the alleged turmoil, etc.). Think of what it will do to this fan base. We’ll be charged even more now because it will symbolize something – like our end of the season run did last season.
The Sixers can hang.
Like the end of the “G.I. Joe” cartoons in the 1980s: “Knowing is half the battle.” Confidence isn’t everything, but it’s a lot of things.
The identity and feel of this team could change drastically within the next month or so. No matter what transpires in these next twelve days, the Sixers will be battle tested for the rest of the season. How the team responds after that will re-shape the rest of the season – and possibly next season, too, depending on the moves made.