Growing up in the 90s, I went through a lot of collectible fads from Pogs to Pokemon cards. Part of any collectible game is making difficult trades with other kids to fill out your collection, from that skull slammer to that holographic Charizard. Sometimes you fleece a friend into trading you a John Elway card for some no names and other times you feel like you traded an arm and a leg for a Jamal Anderson (the Dirty Bird!). But when you finally get what you want, like that Allen Iverson rookie card to finish out your collection, it’s hard to feel anything but great.
After GM Elton Brand’s wheeling-and-dealing, it really feels like the 76ers have assembled what they wanted for the stretch run towards greatness. I have to say, I’m feeling pretty darn great.
The 76ers have finally hit the “Win Now” button! After years of mediocrity post-Iverson and toiling through the Process (and Colangelos), Philly is aiming for the Finals. Is it kind of foolhardy with the specter of the Warriors looming on the other side? Maybe. Are the 76ers ready to challenge for the conference crown though? Without LeBron shouting “You Shall Not Pass” anymore, I think it’s highly possible.
On their first night together, the new look 76ers gave us a taste of something special. While it wasn’t pretty at certain junctures, having a guy like Tobias Harris round out the starting 5 added more layers to a starting lineup that was already one of the best in the league. To put it simply, Harris fit like a glove. In the first quarter we saw how potent the offense could be in terms of spacing and creation. In the fourth quarter, we saw how switchable and devastating the defense can close out a game.
Furthermore, it was apparent that the addition of another play-maker on offense would open things up for the rest of the team. In a game where Joel Embiid looked like he got bit by Zombie Chandler and Ben Simmons soaked his hands in oil, it was JJ Redick that exploded to carry the team to a victory. Redick already stresses defense by his constant movement and deadly shooting. Add in another thing for opposing defenses to think about and just watch as they have to pick their poison.
The ebb and flow of the game was typical Philly from hot start to blown lead. But, against a top team in the Western Conference, the 76ers just worked through their rough patches and stayed very much in control. And when they had to close it out, they did just that with some big stops and clutch baskets.
To finish, consider this.
On February 7, 2015, the 76ers notched just their 12th victory of the season against the Hornets. In that game, the 76ers started Tim Frazier, JaKarr Sampson, Robert Covington, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Nerlens Noel. Covington was the high scorer with 22 and 2nd was Hollis Thompson (!!!) off the bench with 18. Just think about how far this organization has come in just 4 years.
Buckle up, folks. We’re going for it.
Odds & Ends
- Let’s talk about the new acquisitions first. As mentioned, Tobias Harris fit this rotation like a glove with his ability to space the floor and create his own offense. Without any practice, Harris was able to seamlessly fit in with the motion-styled offense. Opposing teams were able to hide their worst defenders on Wilson Chandler before the trade. I’d like to see them try doing that now against Harris. Once more... Pick your poison.
- The Boban Marjanovic experience is everything I’ve expected and more, as it took him about half a second to already become a fan favorite. I mean, having an even larger human being backing up Joel Embiid is ridiculous just as a thought experiment. To actualize that into a lovable giant is the best. Now, don’t expect Boban to be much more than what you saw tonight. He is always going to have issues defending in space, so I realistically expect him to platoon with Jonah Bolden based on match-ups.
- Mike Scott was an underrated depth pickup for the 76ers. While he didn’t show out like the new additions, you got competent minutes off the bench. The 2 points he got tonight was something he created attacking the basket which was the most important thing in my eyes. They have guys off the bench that can do more than one thing!
- Want more depth? Come on down, James Ennis III. Another sneaky good transaction by Brand was picking up Ennis for essentially nothing. Two 3’s tonight, some competent minutes off the bench. GUYS WE HAVE DEPTH.
- As mentioned, JJ Redick was incendiary tonight. With Embiid and Simmons off their game, Redick and his 34 points picked up the slack. Mike Scott said the other day to “put some respect on his name” and he wasn’t all that off. While Embiid, Simmons, Butler and, now, Harris get the All-Star treatment, it’s been arguably Redick that’s been engine to the 76ers successful offense.
- Joel Embiid was under the weather coming into the game. Reportedly he’d been suffering from gastroenteritis and hadn’t been able to keep much food down over the past few days. It showed tonight as he struggled mightily for most of it on both ends. That said, as he’s said before, he’s a “warrior”. When the team needed him, Embiid came up with a monster block and a clutch jumper to close out the game. Get well big guy.
- Ben Simmons struggled with turnovers (9) tonight but had his own part in finishing out the game with a monster dunk off the Redick-screen-and-pop set.
- It’s pretty unreal that I’ve gone this long without talking about Jimmy Butler. While he’s had some clunkers in the past week or so, tonight he did a great job pacing the Sixers when they were struggling to hit shots. He lived at the free throw line tonight notching 14 of his 22 points from the charity stripe. In addition, Butler looked a little more comfortable working as a secondary play maker with 5 assists on the night. It’s something to watch as the season goes on.
- I’ve neglected to mention anything about the Nuggets tonight, mostly because of the excitement of our new-look team. Nikola Jokic put up a triple-double tonight and won the head-to-head match up against an unhealthy Embiid, There, I did it.
- The last thing I want to mention is that the last third of the season is going to be as much of a process as it will successful basketball. Incorporating new guys and skillsets take time. At times it will look amazing, like at times tonight. Other moments it will look discombobulated. Suffice to say, the sky isn’t falling if and when they lose. But they do sport a starting lineup that can contend with just about anybody in the NBA.
- The 76ers will next welcome LeBron James and the Los Angeles ‘Not Anthony Davis’ on Sunday!