Joel Embiid and the Sixers have been on some kind of tear lately. After a sluggish, injury-addled beginning, which saw them go 0-3, then 1-4, and eventually 12-12, they got healthy and started to find a groove. As our Paul Hudrick pointed out, the win vs. Cleveland was huge: “It was the Sixers’ sixth straight win amidst their most difficult stretch of the season. Since an injury-marred 12-12 start, they’re 34-10, the best mark in the NBA in that span.”
They wrap up the tie-breaker and put precious distance between themselves and the next place team, those same Cavaliers. Philly now holds a four-game lead over the fourth-placed Cavs.
Let’s take stock.
The Sixers are 46-22, and after winning six straight, while the Boston Celtics split their last 10, Doc Rivers’ group is only one game back for second place. Milwaukee, in first place, has a comfortable 3.5 game lead over Philly, their eyes laser-focused on home court throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.
So if the playoffs were to start tomorrow, Philadelphia would host the sixth-placed Brooklyn Nets. And then, assuming no upsets, be shipping up to Boston, where they’d have to win a road series before heading to Milwaukee. Sheesh. Not ideal. Is Philly not far West enough to qualify for that Conference next season?
[Side bar: it especially stings that this team lost two winnable games vs. Boston the last time the teams met. The Blake Griffin game still baffles me. How did they lose to a Celtics team without Al Horford, Robert Williams, and with Jaylen Brown only playing half of the contest, after suffering a jaw injury? How? Also, did you know that the Sixers lost five games this season where Montrezl Harrell had a negative +/-, equal to or lower than the final margin the team lost by? For example, the night Trez was a -12 in nine minutes when they lost to the Spurs by nine, or the night he was a -15 in just three minutes and they lost by 11 to the Knicks. It’s obviously Doc Rivers’ fault more than anyone else’s, so let’s not harp on Trez here. If you want to throw some blame at Daryl Morey for rostering Trez while waiving Isaiah Joe, that’s more than fair. That was a doozy we’ll probably never get a great explanation for. Doc is finally using Paul Reed more now. He could have been using Reed earlier on this season. They’ve lost nine games to lottery teams this season and they’re just 4-4 against the five worst teams in the NBA. They had all they needed to win a few more games, and comfortably hold a two-seed right now. But still, they’re damn good. You just hate the idea of playing a Game 7 vs. Jayson Tatum and co. in Boston rather than in South Philly.]
League wide, you can see the Sixers have the third-best record overall, as they’ve now surpassed the Denver Nuggets, the West’s top seed.
Recycling our still applicable passage for the fourth week in a row:
“Glass half full: each of Harden, Maxey, and Embiid have missed chunks of time and somehow they’re still up there with the league leaders. Glass half empty: their schedule was soft and now gets much harder, their injury risk profile is still high, and they’re an older, less athletic group than their top foes.”
By the numbers
The top 10 teams based on offensive rating (points per 100 possessions).
According to NBA.com:
Philadelphia has improved offensively over their last three outings. They’re now dropping a cool 116.6 points per 100 possessions. That’s still good enough for third in the league.
The consistency that this Sixers' offense is operating at right now is truly absurd.— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) March 16, 2023
This stretch includes the #1 defense, #3 defense, and #6 defense in the league. pic.twitter.com/y8epwrbUZl
On the defensive end, they’re holding steady with the eighth-ranked defensive rating, allowing 112.5 points per 100.
The top 10 teams here:
Their defensive rating remains unchanged after the last three battles vs. Portland, Minnesota, and Cleveland.
Since Dec. 9, (the game before James Harden returned from his foot sprain):
- They have the best winning percentage in the entire NBA (.773), going 34-10 over their last 44 games as noted.
- During that stellar span, they have the best +/- (or differential) per game at 6.0.
- They rank seventh in turnovers (that’s good), only coughing it up 13 times per outing since Dec. 9. It was even better before they coughed up so many to the Cavs on Wednesday.
- They’re first in made free throw attempts (26.7) and first in made freebies (22.6) over the same time frame.
- They have the best offensive rating (120 points per 100, tied with Sacramento)
- Their defensive rating drops off a bit, ranking just 13th, allowing 114.1 points per 100.
- They have the best TS% of 62.0, buoyed in part no doubt from the free throws, and a league-best 40 percent from three (on the entire year they still shoot the best percentage from distance at 39 percent).
The best and current version of the Sixers have a juggernaut offensive, and a comes-and-goes defense that still hovers above average. When Embiid is locked in and focused on contesting and snaring defensive rebounds, you know you’re entering a world of pain if you challenge him.
Last week at this time, our old math friends at Fivethirtyeight.com gave the Sixers a 10 percent shot to win the title. That was fourth-best behind the Nuggets (22%) Bucks, (22%) Celtics (14%) then Sixers (10%) in order.
Tonight, it looks like this, with the Sixers possessing a 14 percent shot, now the third-best odds:
Tankathon.com says the Sixers have the fourth-hardest schedule remaining:
You can see the brutal schedule ahead of them in full:
Five games on national television will no doubt help a few undecided MVP voters make their ultimate selection.
Basketball-reference.com says the Sixers have a 74 percent chance now of locking up that third seed.
But the door isn’t completely closed for them to move up. They’re given a 4.5 percent shot at the top seed and a 16.8 percent shot at the second seed:
After beating Cleveland, there’s just a 4.7 percent chance they fall below the three.
Over at NBA.com, the power rankings follow the league wide standings for the top teams. Milwaukee gets the top spot, followed by Boston, and Philadelphia lands third overall.
Just behind them are the Nuggets, losers of four straight, and Cavaliers.
At ESPN.com they have the top five listed the exact same way, with Philly under Milwaukee and Boston, and above Denver and Cleveland.
At DraftKings, we’ve seen a mini-shake up in terms of title odds at the top.
Last week the Celtics had the best championship odds. But after going 5-5 over their last 10, that’s now changed. Milwaukee sits in a tie with Boston for the best odds, followed by the Suns in a tier of their own. And after that the Nuggets, then the Sixers follow. Despite all of the MVP buzz surrounding Joel Embiid, despite their hot streak, their overall title odds remain unchanged at +1100, where they were a week ago.
That may not change much unless they can steal that second seed from Boston.
Buy, sell, hold?
Last week here was our recommendation:
“So figuring they go 2-1, with an outside shot at 3-0, we need to keep stepping on the gas here and buying some more Sixers’ stock.
Put on your James Harden sneakers, your Tyrese Maxey jersey, and start chanting MVP in any and all awkward venues around the greater Delaware Valley until we chant it into existence.”
Assuming you scooped up some Sixers stock, we made a pretty penny last week with the clean 3-0 sweep. Joel Embiid won a Player of the Week, and has completely upended the MVP conversation.
We may want to buy some Joel stock while we’re at it, even though the price is higher than ever.
So here’s our slate before we next have a market check-in:
The Friday night tip vs. the 22-49 Charlotte Hornets figures to be a win. The Hornets are an odd team to figure out. They lost seven games in a row, and many figured they were looking to improve their NBA Draft lottery odds. But then they go and win five straight. They’re a surprisingly frisky 7-6 over their last 13. Trap?
And the Sixers have a back-to-back here, so you get the sense they’re going to try and win both, while also perhaps stealing a rest day for some key player. Hopefully Rivers presses that these games mean no less in terms of final standings than showdowns vs. top tier groups.
It was James Harden who rested at Minnesota. Could Joel Embiid finally get a day off? Maybe not with his sights set on that MVP trophy. P.J. Tucker, was recently dealing with back spasms, might he sit one out?
PJ Tucker:— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) March 16, 2023
Game high +22
Tyrese Maxey may be too young to load manage, but I can tell you that Tobias Harris (calf) and De’Anthony Melton (back) could certainly use a rest day.
Then they’re at Indiana, who they recently played in a track-meet. So we don’t yet know how they’ll play this one in terms of personnel. But I’m not 1,000 percent confident they’ll win both, especially if they do elect to load manage. Maybe they’ll try to go 10 or 11 deep and buy some in game-rest. The good news from Philly’s POV, they won’t have to contend with Tyrese Haliburton, now nursing an ankle until at least next week:
Tyrese Haliburton will miss tonight’s game vs the #Bucks. He’s out the next three games at least, per #Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle. The all-star from Oshkosh turner the ankle in a recent practice.— Jim Owczarski (@JimOwczarski) March 16, 2023
He’s missed all three games vs. the Bucks this season.
Chicago is just 31-37, but they have a winning record at home. Embiid has actually never lost to Chicago, (12-0 all time) but you know they’re reminded of that fact every single time, so they’ll be looking to steal at least one of those. The Knicks finally broke their losing streak against him, even though the Sixers led by 20 at one point.
All in all, while we may be due for a trap or let down game, you can’t not buy some more Sixers stock with all of these winnable games. Let’s keep pushing. I’m buying. And I’m buying Embiid MVP stock also.
Because next week, we’re probably going to have to dump a few shares with the worst part of the schedule on deck.