On Friday, the NBA released the eight-game slates for each of the 22 teams that will soon head to Orlando to comprise the league’s ‘bubble,’ in an effort to resume and conclude the 2019-20 season.
The schedule for the Sixers:
Quickly, the league’s writers ran the analytics on exactly which teams got the cushiest schedules. The Sixers, it seems, got lucky.
#Sixers have the second easiest schedule of the restart.— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) June 26, 2020
Of course — as anyone who had the misfortune of watching this Sixers team prior to the shutdown knows — playing bad teams certainly does not guarantee a schedule full of easy wins. Time and again, this team played down to their competition amidst the malaise of the regular season. Sixers fans have taken notice:
Regardless, the eight games in front of them should allow the team to get into some kind of cohesive rhythm prior to the contests that really count in mid-August. The remainder of this regular season could allow for some standings rejiggering, as the Sixers could climb as high as fourth in the standings, depending on their play and the play of Indiana and Miami.
Of course, some would like the Sixers to play well, but not well enough to climb in the standings, as they feel that a matchup versus Boston (and then, likely versus Toronto) is more favorable than a 4-vs-5 matchup against Miami (and then, likely versus Milwaukee).
Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the schedule, game-by-game.
Saturday, 8/1 vs. Indiana Pacers, 7pm
The schedule starts off by pitting the Sixers against the team directly above them (by virtue of a tiebreaker) in the standings.
The Pacers own an identical 39-26 record to the Sixers.
Indiana has already won two of the three matchups in the season series against Philadelphia. When the two teams last met, the Pacers trounced the visiting Sixers on New Year’s Eve, 115-97, in a game Joel Embiid missed due to injury.
The Sixers’ lone win against Indiana this season came at home at the end of November, as Ben Simmons and Embiid urged the team to a last-minute victory.
The Pacers sport a balanced roster, toplined by guard Malcolm Brogdon, in his first year with Indiana, and Domantas Sabonis, a power forward who became an All-Star for the first time in 2020.
The headline news out of Indiana’s camp is that Brogdon recently tested positive for coronavirus, and is now going through the self-quarantine and re-testing steps he must pass through prior to joining his squad in Orlando.
Of the most import for some Sixers fans, of course, is that the matchup will allow the team to see a couple old friends in ‘Process’ heroes T.J. McConnell and JaKarr Sampson.
Monday, 8/3 vs. San Antonio Spurs, 8pm
Next up, Brett Brown and Ime Udoka face off against their mentor, Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs have had a rough season (27-36) and currently find themselves on the outside looking into the playoff picture. 12th in the West, San Antonio just barely qualified among the 22 teams included in the Orlando restart.
On the season, the Sixers and Spurs only faced off once, when the Sixers won at home, 115-104.
The Spurs, of course, are led by a pair of fringe star players on the wrong side of 30, in DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. However, Aldridge will not be playing in Orlando after having surgery on his right shoulder earlier this month.
If (giant if) the Sixers play to their strengths, a team like the Spurs shouldn’t be able to keep up with them throughout 48 minutes.
Wednesday, 8/5 vs. Washington Wizards, 4pm
I won’t sugarcoat this: the Wizards are the worst team going to Orlando. Washington is 24-40, and has been included in the bubble for some reason (money) that’s beyond my reasonable understanding.
Of course, as previously stated, a team being bad does not exactly disqualify them from having a chance to defeat the Sixers.
On the season, the Sixers split the two games they played against Washington. Fittingly, they won at home and lost on the road.
Washington has one thing working in its favor: star guard Bradley Beal.
Beal broke out offensively this season, averaging a scorching 30 points per game and acting as the engine for a team that — despite all its flaws — put up a great deal of points. What Beal hasn’t been able to help, however, is the Wizards’ porous defense.
Notably, the Wiz will be without forward Davis Bertans. Bertans has opted to stay home rather than compete in the bubble. A victim of two ACL injuries in the past, Bertans seeks to protect the payday he’s in store for this offseason as an impending free agent.
Friday, 8/7 vs Orlando Magic, 6:30pm
The Sixers will next face off against the current 8-seed in the Eastern Conference, the 30-35 Orlando Magic.
The Magic are a perfectly middling, just-below-average team that’s emblematic of Eastern Conference 8-seeds in recent history.
Of course, the Sixers had a tough time against the Magic this year, as they lost both contests in Orlando. That fact ought to be ascribed more to the Sixers sleepwalking through road games all season, rather than the Magic having some sort of personnel or coaching advantage that sets them apart against Philadelphia.
Like Indiana, Orlando boasts a roster with a number of former Sixers: Nikola Vucevic, Markelle Fultz, James Ennis III and Michael Carter Williams. Fultz and MCW, specifically, have somewhat resuscitated their careers in Orlando this year. Meanwhile, Vucevic — the former SIxers first-round pick whose claim to fame in Philadelphia was being loathed by head coach Doug Collins — has taken a step backward this year after a spirited 2018-19 season, in which he was named an Eastern Conference All-Star.
Sunday, 8/9 vs. Portland Trail Blazers, 6:30pm
The Trail Blazers are one of the more intriguing teams heading to Orlando.
Of course, the team is led by mainstay superstar guard Damian Lillard, and backcourt mate CJ McCollum. But the Blazers are set to become one of the teams most buoyed by the midseason respite, as they are slated to become healthier than ever during this season. Big men Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic are currently planning on playing at full strength once play resumed, which ought to give Portland more diversity and firepower than they previously possessed prior to the season’s suspension.
The Blazers also suit up Carmelo Anthony.
The team will be without rotation forward Trevor Ariza, who has opted to stay home from the end-of-season bubble.
Portland is currently 9th in the West at 29-37, 3.5 games back of 8th-place Memphis, and hopes to hop into the playoff picture by season’s end.
During the season, the Sixers faced Portland only once, during the fifth game of the season, wherein the Sixers pulled out an exciting comeback win on the road that was punctuated by a last-second 3-pointer by Furkan Korkmaz.
Tuesday, 8/11 vs. Phoenix Suns, 4:30pm
The Suns were just narrowly edged out for the ‘worst team heading to Orlando’ distinction by the Wizards, but they’re pretty bad in their own right. At 26-39, the Suns are 13th in the West, and somehow have been included in the bubble as the NBA resumes play.
What the Suns have going for them, of course, is young star guard Devin Booker, who is a one-man offense every time he touches the ball. The Suns also start young center Deandre Ayton, who should make for an interesting matchup for Joel Embiid.
After serving as an assistant coach under Brett Brown last season, Monty Williams is in his first year as the head coach in Phoenix.
The only time the two teams met this year was at the beginning of November, when the Embiid-less Sixers lost to the Suns by five points on the road.
Wednesday, 8/12 vs. Toronto Raptors, 6:30pm
A back-to-back! Immediately after playing Phoenix, the Sixers face off against the currently-two-seeded Raptors.
The Raptors, of course, look a bit different from the team that ousted Philly in seven games during the second round of last season’s playoffs. Forward Kawhi Leonard jetted to the Clippers after bringing home the Larry O’Brien trophy for Toronto.
In his absence, the Raptors have remained very, very good. Forward Pascal Siakam took a leap forward and became an All-Star, and the Raptors continue to boast a deep, well-coached roster of two-way players.
The Raptors won two of the three matchups with the Sixers this year. Among those three meetings, of course, was a late-November game in which Embiid was held completely scoreless.
Raptors center Marc Gasol has proven to be Embiid’s toughest adversary in the NBA, defensively. Gasol is giant and smart and won’t fall for many of Joel’s head and pump fakes in the post. Solving the Gasol matchup is instrumental to the team’s chances in a possible series against Toronto, should the two teams meet in the playoffs.
Friday, 8/14 vs. Houston Rockets, time TBD
On the final day of the NBA’s ‘regular season,’ the Sixers take on James Harden, Russell Westbrook and the Houston Rockets in what will be a fascinating philosophical matchup.
The 40-24 Rockets, of course, went all-in on small ball when they traded away center Clint Capela at the trade deadline in February, and received former Sixer Robert Covington in exchange. Prior to the shutdown, the Rockets had been playing the majority of their minutes without a traditional center, instead using Covington and forward P.J. Tucker at the 5, to pretty surprising success. What the change did more than anything may have been unlocking their athletic-but-inefficient star, Westbrook.
It will be interesting to see how the teams’ opposing philosophies stack up, and which wins out. A team like the Sixers was built on size and strength, and it will be a tall order to contend with the speed and versatility of Houston.
Of course, as this is the final game of the regular season, there’s a chance that the standings will be sewn up and the stars will rest.
The Rockets won the only matchup between the two teams this season.
There you have it!
All eight games.
Here’s hoping everyone involved stays healthy and avoids the dangerous virus that seems to rise in case count (especially in Florida) every day.