The 76ers only played five games over the last two weeks, and they were able to take advantage of a soft spot in the schedule after dropping a crucial seeding implications win to the visiting Boston Celtics back in early December.
Joel Embiid is a front-runner for MVP (what else is new) and Tyrese Maxey is headed for his first All-Star berth in a contract year. The duo is dynamite, but you already knew that.
Let’s take stock.
The Sixers were 12-6 last time we checked in this space. Nick Nurse’s crew is now 16-7. While they weren’t technically able to gain any ground in the East, still sitting in fourth place, they’re only half a game back from the second-place Bucks, and in a tie with the Magic.
Per ESPN, the top 10 teams in the Eastern Conference:
The rival Celtics beat Philadelphia at the crib, as noted, and that means the Sixers are now 1-2 vs. Boston this season.
They also dropped a crucial nailbiter to the Milwaukee Bucks earlier in the year. That means the Sixers are 2-4 vs. three of the top four (current) Conference Rivals. And that means Daryl Morey should be looking to pull something together to get Embiid some more reinforcements, regardless of how good he feels about their start:
Daryl Morey gives a look at the team’s outlook at the trade deadline while on the @JohnKincade show on @975TheFanatic— Sean Barnard (@Sean_Barnard1) December 13, 2023
“We feel very good where we’re at. We’re not complacent. We know we need to keep playing better, keep improving, hopefully add someone that may be significant as…
League-wide, the NBA standings:
As you can see, the Sixers have the fourth-best overall record, tied with Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic. See everyone, processing isn’t so bad if you just do it right, right? The Magic seem to remind us of this every time they land the No. 1 pick in the draft.
By the numbers
Here’s where it gets fun. The 76ers have the best point differential per game in the entire NBA, outscoring opponents by a robust 9.2 points per game.
They’ve ripped off four straight, and six of their last 10, and their offensive rating is a second overall at 121.3 points per 100 possessions. Only Tyrese Haliburton’s Indiana Pacers score more per possession with 123.0. That’s the same spot they held two weeks ago also, so their offense is seriously clicking, with a now even larger sample size.
On the other end, things were hairy for a little bit. They ranked 14th overall in defensive rating by late November. But they’ve improved (maybe with the softer schedule) now topping out at ninth (allowing 111.9 points per 100). So they are in the top 10 of each category and that’s big and perhaps part of why Daryl Morey is (at least publicly) stating he likes where his team is at, despite not feeling complacent.
In the ESPN power rankings, the Sixers grade out third overall. The ABC affiliate who made the tragic, unforgettable decison to fire Jeff Van Gundy and break up the historic broadcast chemistry the former Knicks and Rockets coach had had with voice of the league, Mike Breen, places the Celtics and Timberwolves ahead of your favorite team.
Here is what Tim Bontemps wrote:
“Philadelphia took advantage of missing out on the knockout rounds of the in-season tournament, claiming victories over the Wizards and Hawks to kick off what should be a very favorable stretch in its schedule. Already riding a three-game winning streak, the 76ers have just two road games — versus Detroit on Wednesday and Charlotte on Saturday — and only face one winning team (Minnesota) between now and Christmas. It’s a golden opportunity for the Sixers to solidify their position inside the top four in the East.”
Milwaukee and Oklahoma City follow the Sixers in that ranking.
Over on NBA.com, the Sixers were ranked fifth overall behind the Wolves, Celtics, Nuggets and Thunder, respectively.
If you wanted to place a bet on the Sixers to win the championship today, you’d get +1200 odds on your money at DraftKings. Their odds here hold steady from two weeks ago. They curretly trail the Celtics, Bucks, Nuggets and Suns respectively. Phoenix isn’t ranked too highly on power rankings but their big three of Bradley Beal, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker have played one game together, so the oddsmakers understand there’s some serious potential there for a title run.
Vegas doesn’t seem to care as much about #depth as the Twitter Cognoscenti and the casinos are right a lot more than the rest of us. So you can’t rule out the Suns even though the Sixers took care of their shorthanded group earlier this year.
Looking down the pike, Joel and the Sixers have a terrific schedule. They get Detroit, Charlotte and Chicago before a Wednesday showdown vs. Anthony Edwards and the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves.
That will be one of their biggest “test games” and perhaps Morey and Brand will be paying close attention to team needs by that point.
Tobias Harris was on some boo watch over the prior stretch of games so the softer stretch in the schedule couldn’t have come at a better time for him to get right. Harris snapped a lingering slump putting up 21 points on just 10 field goals vs. his former Pistons Wednesday. But the team will need to see him step it up by the time Minnesota rolls through (especially if they’re beginning to shop him around again).