Have you ever seen the movie Jaws? I haven’t. But I think I get it. Big bad shark terrorizes beach-goers one fateful summer. It is incumbent upon the townsfolk to both evade and eventually capture the shark, lest it maim or kill even more people.
The shark is ferocious and maleficent the whole way through.
Let’s say you watched the first hour of Jaws in March. Then you paused it, got sidetracked, and decided to resume the final half hour of the film sometime in July. Late July. Would you, given your previous knowledge of the movie already in progress, press play thinking: eh, I think the shark gets a bad rap. He’s not so bad. I’m sure he’ll redeem himself as a nice shark at the end of this movie. Of course not! You’ve got so much prior evidence to suggest the exact opposite.
Well then, dear reader, why do I — an otherwise reasonable and passably intelligent person — find myself using that very flawed logic as it pertains to the Philadelphia 76ers?
For 65 painstaking games, we watched the Sixers crumble underneath the elite-level aspirations ascribed to them last offseason. Their big-ticket summertime acquisition proved an untenable offensive fit next to the team’s two entrenched, young stars.
One of those stars, Ben Simmons, while excellent, still refused to shoot from any meaningful distance.
The other, Joel Embiid, took a number of games off — sadly, many of the games he took off were also games he played.
The team showed flashes of brilliance (mainly at home), but those flashes were mostly obscured by brutal stretches of wholly lethargic play. Time and again, they sleepwalked through games against teams they felt were beneath them, only to awake with about three minutes left, suddenly trailing by seven.
Then the coronavirus pandemic struck, and the NBA took a midseason break for four months.
And now, with an Orlando bubble plan finalized and nearly in motion, we are on the precipice of the resumption and conclusion of the 2019-20 NBA season.
And boy, am I all in on our stupid Sixers.
Last week, as the players and coaches began convening at the team’s practice facility in Camden, the quotes started pouring in. And I ate ‘em up.
Brown on Ben Simmons: “We’re going to treat Ben like we maybe would Shake or Matisse [health wise]. He’s good to go....we look forward to watching him with what I’m told is effectively 100 percent health.”— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) July 1, 2020
Brown offers a strong endorsement of Embiid’s work during quarantine: “There is nobody on our team that has put in more time than Joel Embiid.”— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) July 1, 2020
Brown on Shake Milton: “I’m excited because I’m counting on him to continue on. I don’t believe what we saw is that much of an outlier...if he can capture a large portion of what we saw, he really has a chance to play a significant role.”— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) July 1, 2020
On Zoom call with reporters, Ben Simmons says he feels “better than I was when I started the season.” Says he put on a lot more muscle during the downtime— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) July 2, 2020
Simmons says he trusts not just the NBA, as well as vet leaders like LeBron and Chris Paul, to set things up the right way in Orlando. Respects if other guys choose not to go, but, “I feel like it’s my responsibility to go down there and represent Philadelphia”— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) July 2, 2020
Even Al freaking Horford:
Al Horford, who doesn't get very descriptive about injuries, admits that he "probably wasn't where he wanted to be" health-wise during the season. Says the time off was beneficial for him there.— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) July 3, 2020
Al Horford: "I believe that our group is built for the playoffs. ... I believe there's a second chance for us and a great opportunity." pic.twitter.com/DcB81SkpwM— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) July 3, 2020
Who would’ve thought that all it would take for me to ‘Men In Black-memory-eraser-thing’ this entire exasperating season was a few heartening (and possibly empty) quotes from the Sixers?
I know that all logic and reason points to the hard evidence of the team’s play this season as fairly predictive data for what we’re likely to see for the remainder of the year.
I get it.
But it’s too late.
We haven’t had sports for so long — so screw it — I’m going all in. Fresh legs! Horford’s lackluster play can be attributed to the tendinitis in his knees. Sure, maybe giving a 34-year-old who plays the same position as your best player and has degenerative knees a four-year, $100 million contract is a bad move, but that is a problem for another day. The task at hand is to build some sort of cohesion over the final eight games of the season, just in time to run roughshod through the East and win the weirdest title in the history of sports.
Many Sixers fans have expressed hope that the Sixers play well, but not well enough over the rest of the ‘regular season’ so as to avoid leapfrogging Indiana and facing off against Miami in the first round. They cite the Sixers’ 3-1 record versus Boston during the year and Boston’s meager center rotation as two of the main reasons. Also, staying in the 6-seed would allow the Sixers to stay out of Milwaukee’s side of the bracket. Should the Sixers beat the Celtics, they are then likely to match up with the 2-seed Toronto Raptors, thus saving the faceoff against the Bucks for the Eastern Conference Finals.
Personally, I feel that the Sixers need to play good basketball together. If that means jumping over Indiana and locking into the 4-or-5-seed, so be it. Miami has been a provably worse team than the Celtics by every measure this year. If the Sixers want to play in The Finals, they’re going to have to go through Milwaukee one way or another. Why not play them earlier when Embiid and Horford’s legs are as fresh as possible?
So, I invite you to join me. Throw caution to the wind. Turn a cold shoulder to reason and evidence, plug your ears and eyes to things like net rating, point differential and home/road splits. Go all in on this dumb team. It’s all we have.
I know that, in the end, the heartbreak will be worse if you adopt this frame of mind. But it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.
Rest in Peace, Carl Reiner. An elemental figure in the history of comedy.