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2022-23 NBA schedule release: 7 Sixers matchups to watch

The Sixers are slated to have a number of can’t-miss matchups throughout the 2022-23 NBA season.

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NBA: Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA released the full schedule for the 2022-23 season on Wednesday—right after a LeBron James #WojBomb, naturally.

The Sixers have 34 nationally televised games and 13 back-to-backs this season, according to Lauren Rosen of the team’s website. They’ll face a tough pair of opponents at the beginning of the year and finish with a grueling stretch that could have major playoff-seeding implications.

While the Sixers will enter the season with their eyes on a bigger prize, the regular season will give them 82 games to figure out how their offseason additions fit best, develop chemistry and round out their rotations. We’ll get to see whether Joel Embiid can finally break through and win an MVP award, how James Harden looks after a full offseason of recovery and what else Tyrese Maxey added to his bag this summer.

The following seven games stand out as must-watch affairs in particular.

Oct. 18: at Boston Celtics (7:30 p.m. ET on TNT)

On opening night of the 2022-23 season, the Sixers have an opportunity to send a message to the rest of the league.

The Sixers tip off the season on the road against the Boston Celtics, who are fresh off a trip to the NBA Finals. The Celtics are entering the year as the title favorites after acquiring Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari while losing no one of consequence, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, which makes this a great first test for the new-look Sixers.

These two teams split their four regular-season matchups last year, although all four came before Harden ever suited up in a Philadelphia uniform. This will be our first real chance to see whether Harden’s offseason work helped him regain his burst, whether P.J. Tucker can lock down Jayson Tatum and whether Maxey can cook reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart.

Kevin Durant has both the Celtics and Sixers on his preferred list of trade destinations, according to SNY’s Ian Begley, which could add even more juice to this matchup. But even if KD opens the season in Brooklyn, storylines abound in this clash between two hated rivals.

Here’s hoping that Embiid kicks off his MVP campaign by dunking all over Al Horford and Robert Williams III.

Oct. 20: vs. Milwaukee Bucks (7:30 p.m. ET on TNT)

The Sixers’ measuring-stick games don’t stop with Boston on opening week. Two nights after facing the Celtics, they head back to the Wells Fargo Center for their home opener against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks took the Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last year. Had Khris Middleton not missed the entire series with an MCL sprain, they likely would have represented the East in the NBA Finals rather than the Celtics.

Tucker was a key part of the Bucks’ 2020-21 championship team, but he’ll now be tasked with slowing down Giannis rather than spacing the floor for him. The Sixers haven’t had a good answer for the Greek Freak other than Embiid—just ask Ben Simmons—so this will be an early test as to how much the additions of Tucker, Danuel House Jr. and De’Anthony Melton will improve their defensive versatility.

Embiid will likely enter the game looking to make a statement against the two-time MVP, too. Antetokounmpo sat down at center court at the Wells Fargo Center after hitting a game-sealing bucket during a March 2021 regular-season clash between the Bucks and Sixers, but Embiid missed that game with a bone bruise in his left knee. Will Embiid return the favor if he outduels the Greek Freak in this one?

If the Sixers beat the Celtics on opening night, they could start the season in emphatic fashion by toppling the Bucks in their home opener. If they lose to the Celtics, they’ll look to avoid starting off on an 0-2 skid that would inevitably lead to panicked bed-wetting. Either way, this is an early-season must-watch.

Nov. 22: vs. Brooklyn Nets (7:30 p.m. ET on TNT)

The Sixers faced the Brooklyn Nets only once after the two teams swapped Harden and Simmons at the February trade deadline. The Nets blew the Sixers out in Simmons’ hotly anticipated return to Philadelphia, although Simmons was sidelined with a back injury.

On Nov. 22, Simmons figures to play his first game in Philly since the trade. It’s less clear who will be suiting up alongside him, though.

Durant requested a trade shortly before free agency began and reiterated that request in a recent meeting with Nets governor Joe Tsai, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. Kyrie Irving created a list of sign-and-trade destinations that he wanted the Nets to “consider working with” before he picked up his $36.9 million player option in late June, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

In the increasingly unlikely event that the Nets smooth things over with Durant and Irving before the season starts, they could be right in the championship mix this season. The additions of T.J. Warren (free agency) and Royce O’Neale (trade) could help make up for the loss of Bruce Brown Jr., particularly if Joe Harris has fully recovered from the ankle injury that limited him to only 14 games last year.

Regardless of who is and isn’t on the Nets’ roster by late November, Simmons likely will be. He’ll undoubtedly be welcomed back to Philadelphia with a cacophony of boos.

Friday, Dec. 16: vs. Golden State Warriors (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN)

In the words of the great philosopher Ric Flair: To be the man, you’ve gotta beat the man.

That isn’t entirely true in the NBA. The Sixers don’t necessarily need to defeat the defending champion Golden State Warriors to win this year’s title. But this game against the reigning champs will be a good litmus test of their championship credentials.

With all due respect to Kevon Looney and James Wiseman, neither one stands much of a chance of defending Embiid one-on-one. The big fella missed one of the Sixers’ two regular-season meetings with the Warriors last year while he was in health-and-safety protocols, but he had a game-high 26 points in a back-and-forth nine-point win over them in a Saturday night ABC game last December.

Harden had his fair share of memorable scraps with Steph Curry during his Houston days, although the Warriors won those more often than not. Now that team president Daryl Morey has turned the Sixers into Rockets East by reuniting Harden with Tucker and House, will he fare better against his longtime foils while being flanked with Embiid, Maxey and Tobias Harris as well?

The Sixers shouldn’t hang any banners for beating the Warriors in a regular-season game, but a decisive victory could cement them as a legitimate title contender.

Dec. 25: at New York Knicks (12 p.m. ET on ESPN)

After three straight years on the NBA’s Christmas Day slate from 2017-18 through 2019-20, the league kept the Sixers off Christmas for the past two seasons. Between the lingering stench of the disappointing 2019-20 campaign and Simmons’ drawn-out trade saga last year, the NBA had no interest in featuring them either year.

They’re back on Christmas this season, though, with a trip to Madison Square Garden to face the New York Knicks in the first game of the day.

The Knicks could add some intrigue to this matchup by trading for 2017-18 Rookie of the Year runner-up Donovan Mitchell. Charania and Tony Jones of The Athletic reported Tuesday that they had “a fresh trade conversation” with the Utah Jazz “within the past week about potential packages for Mitchell,” although “there is no traction between the two teams on a deal, and no Mitchell trade is imminent.”

If the Knicks don’t swing a deal for Mitchell, this could turn into a trap game for the Sixers.

After a surprising playoff berth in 2020-21, the Knicks came crashing back to earth last season, finishing with a 37-45 record that left them out of the play-in tournament. The addition of Jalen Brunson should give them extra firepower in their backcourt, but they will need a breakout year from RJ Barrett or a bounce-back season from Julius Randle to be a real factor in the East.

Fingers crossed that the Sixers take care of business before our families disown us for watching too much basketball on Christmas.

Saturday, Jan. 28: vs. Denver Nuggets (3 p.m. ET on ABC)

Are you ready for another year of never-ending debates with Denver Nuggets fans about Embiid and Nikola Jokic? Because they sure are.

Jokic is the two-time reigning MVP, while Embiid finished as the runner-up in both seasons. The voting was much closer last year than it was in 2020-21, though, when Embiid missed nearly a month after the All-Star break with a bone bruise in his left knee.

The two played to a standstill in their most recent matchup in mid-March. Embiid finished with 34 points on 11-of-20 shooting, nine rebounds and four assists, while Jokic had 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting, 13 rebounds and eight assists in a four-point win fueled by a Bones Hyland fourth-quarter eruption.

Embiid vs. Jokic will be the headliner of any Sixers-Nuggets game, but plenty of other interesting matchups abound, too. Hyland and Tyrese Maxey are two of the most fun young guards in the NBA. Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. are walking buckets, while Aaron Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will likely be tasked with slowing down Maxey and Harden. The Nuggets also acquired Process legend Ish Smith from the Washington Wizards this offseason in the KCP trade.

If Embiid resoundingly trounces Jokic in their one-on-one matchup and the Sixers win, it could bolster his MVP resume this season. They have a rematch in Denver on March 27, which could help swing some late-season momentum toward Embiid, too.

Monday, Feb. 27: vs. Miami Heat (7 p.m. ET on NBA TV)

The Miami Heat took advantage of a hobbled Embiid to knock the Sixers out in the Eastern Conference Semifinals this past spring. The Sixers will have to wait until Feb. 27 for their first chance at revenge.

The Heat might also enter that matchup looking for revenge after the Sixers successfully lured Tucker away from South Beach in free agency. Jimmy Butler, who told reporters during the playoffs that he “didn’t know I would fall in love with a basketball player as much as I have with P.J.,” was none too thrilled about Tucker’s decision to leave.

The same likely goes for Heat president Pat Riley. Although it’s unclear which team asked the NBA to open a tampering investigation into the Sixers for their free-agency moves, it’s pretty easy to put two and two together.

The Heat might succeed in getting the league to strip a second-round pick from the Sixers. But if Tucker helps the Sixers win their first title in 40 years, that’ll be a worthy sacrifice.