When last we checked in with a stock watch the Sixers were 18-8, sitting in third place. This will be our last check-in of the calendar year so let’s get right down to it.
The Sixers kicked off this stretch with a signature win over the best-of-the-West Minnesota Timberwolves, led by Anthony Edwards.
That big-time victory reminded the NBA world that Joel Embiid is an absolute monster and that he has a true star running mate in Tyrese Maxey.
Nick Nurse sure has this group clicking on both ends of the floor more often than not, and mercilessly, there aren't the same unforced maddening lineup and rotation blunders we collectively stomached under Doc Rivers; y’know, the kind that forced every single fan to keep a glug of Pepto handy for inevitable all-bench unit minutes.
They next knocked off the Toronto Raptors in relatively decisive fashion, but Embiid suffered an ankle injury and was forced to miss (at least) the next two games. The truth is, Embiid’s health is paramount in any analysis of whether or not to buy or sell this team’s stock. But it sounds like the big fella is at least nearing a return, taking shots the last couple of days. And he has yet to be ruled out for the bout vs. Houston on Friday. [Update: he was ruled out].
Let’s take stock.
The top 10 teams in the East, per ESPN.com:
They’re still 2.5 games behind Boston, but they’ve gained half a game on the Milwaukee Bucks, who lost to the Knicks on Christmas Day. My Knicks fan friends are still on cloud nine. After the Sixers, without Embiid, knocked off the Orlando Magic in decisive fashion, it’s the Miami Heat who now occupy fourth place.
Having lost out on both Bradley Beal and Damian Lillard, the Heat may still have another move up their sleeve. But then again, if Jaime Jaquez would have had to have been included in any potential blockbusters, they may not regret missing out. The dude has been straight-up balling. Why does Miami always have to find good stuff? Isn’t their beach, weather, and state tax stuff enough of a draw already? Evil empire.
But maybe that takes some of the sting out of Pat Riley’s once-selecting Precious Achiuwa just one spot ahead of Tyrese Maxey back in 2020. Oopsie poopsy.
The top 18 teams in the NBA today by record, league-wide:
You can see the Lakers and Suns wayyy down the list there, and the Sixers, surprisingly ahead of Denver, Miami and Phoenix, not to mention the Warriors. I’m not sure many would have guessed Philadelphia would be ahead of those teams back when the Harden stalemate was in full effect — or even after the 2018 MVP was dealt to the L.A. Clippers, for that matter.
The Sixers added to their standing claim as the team with the top differential per game, outscoring opponents by a silly 11 points per outing.
That’s pretty sick, and hopefully, their on-average dominance translates to surpassing either Milwaukee or Boston in the standings soon.
By the numbers
Philadelphia is scoring 121 points per 100 possessions. When last we checked in, they ranked second overall, scoring 121.4. But it seems that Joel Embiid’s absence may have slowed them down just a tad. Milwaukee has surged ahead (121.2), and both the Sixers and Bucks trail Tyrese Haliburton’s Indiana Pacers, who continue to go full throttle with their league-leading 121.8 points per 100.
It’s on the other side of the ball where Philadelphia has really stepped up their game lately. They have the second-best overall defensive rating, holding teams to a stingy 109.8 points per 100 possessions. Only the Minnesota Timberwolves, anchored by Rudy Gobert, hold teams to less (108.1). The Sixers ranked fifth defensively just one week ago.
Philadelphia's ranking in the top two or three on both offense and defense, combined with their stellar point differential per night, certainly seems to bode well for their future if they can get/stay healthy.
Tankathon.com looks at “team’s remaining games and calculates the combined winning percentage for all those opponents.” In their assessment, Philadelphia has the 19th-most difficult schedule remaining. So that’s more good news. The combined win percentage for their future opponents is below .500 at .494. (And hopefully a few of those teams lose hope by the time the Broad St. Bullies roll through.)
According to ESPN.com, the Sixers rank fifth overall in the league-wide power rankings. Their official site lists in order the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves ahead of Embiid and Maxey’s group.
On NBA.com the Sixers also rank fifth, except it’s the Oklahoma City Thunder, and not the Milwaukee Bucks, as one of the teams ahead of them. They too list Minnesota, Boston and Denver ahead of the Sixers.
Per oddsmakers, Philadelphia is given the fifth-best odds overall. Last week they were +1100, but I guess beating the Timberwolves helped them get down to +1000. Not shabby:
As you can see, Vegas still loves the Finals favorites, the Boston Celtics (+350), as well as the Milwaukee Bucks (+400). The reigning champs out West occupy the third and final spot within Tier 1.
But Phoenix, L.A.C. and the Sixers headline Tier 2.
There is still a really big gap between Philadelphia and the Big Two teams in the East, according to bookmakers. But we’ll have to wait and see if Daryl Morey has another move or three up his sleeve to narrow that gap.
Charles Barkley yelling Ginobli voice: Anunoby!!!
James Harden’s Clippers are surging as well, and oddsmakers have taken note, in case that hadn’t landed on your radar yet.
The vibes are pretty good, all things considered. This was one of my favorite highlights of a stellar Paul Reed-Tyrese Maxey game down in Disney World:
Magic blow up a Reed Maxey DHo so Reed keeps his dribble alive with a killer cross over and gorgeous dime on the Maxey 3. Looked like contact too pic.twitter.com/RfbVdAdM3z— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) December 28, 2023
Joel can afford to take a night off here or there when B-Ball Paul plays as well as he did on Wednesday. But if Joel is healthy, and Nico Batum returns from his hamstring ailment, while we fans dream of potential reinforcements before the February trade deadline, there’s plenty to be optimistic about heading into 2024.
I think it’s an excellent time to buy some Sixers stock. If they’re this close to the top teams in the power rankings, offensive and defensive rating, point differential, if they’re reasonably close per Vegas odds, AND they potentially have another move or two up their sleeve (something Milwaukee cannot say), a solid remaining schedule, plus the big fella returning soon? HEY!
Heck, I may buy a little too much. Maybe my New Year’s Resolution should be to not get my hopes up too high, just in case. Please don’t ask my mom how I was on Mother’s Day last Spring. IYKYK.