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Last extended road trip of the season looms large for the Sixers

A four-game trip westward comes at a critical moment for Philadelphia.

Chicago Bulls v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Just 11 games remain in the regular season for the Philadelphia 76ers and things are tight. Pending Boston’s game in Sacramento Tuesday night, the Sixers sit a half-game behind the Celtics for second place in the East and home-court advantage in a potential second-round playoff series. Top-seeded Milwaukee is probably out of reach with a three-game cushion, but you never know. The news of James Harden experiencing Achilles soreness couldn’t be coming at a worse juncture. Philadelphia needs the Beard entering the postseason healthy, and the team’s biggest challenge now is how to navigate his recovery while finishing the regular season strong.

Making matters more difficult is the team’s upcoming final extended road trip of the season, a four-game stretch that will see the Sixers take on Chicago, Golden State, Phoenix, and Denver. The three Western Conference clubs are among the top six teams on that side of the bracket, while the Bulls just beat the Sixers in Philadelphia Monday night. Philly will have to put that double-overtime loss behind them, something De’Anthony Melton didn’t think would be too difficult when speaking to reporters after the game:

“Night’s like this, it can happen in the NBA. We’re human, you know what I mean. We just played bad honestly, we felt like we played bad, but at the same time we still could’ve won the game. We still should’ve won the game. We don’t want to put it on that. We find different ways to execute, communicate, and just pull wins out like this but you know, it’s one loss. You don’t want to get too wrapped up into it. That’s what film is for.”

One good indicator for the upcoming stretch is that the Sixers just showed they can have success away from the greater Delaware Valley, having gone 9-1 over a 10-game stretch this month that featured eight games on the road. Of course, Harden was available and playing well, and the caliber of competition largely wasn’t what we’ll see the Sixers face over the next week. Joel Embiid was asked on Monday night about the key to having a successful road trip, but deferred to something of a stay-in-the-moment aphorism:

“Like I said, we’re trying to find ways to get better every single game even if it was small. I thought tonight could’ve been better. You know it happens. You move on to the next one. You learn from it. Like I said, the biggest key is just staying together.”

Ultimately, the stakes have been raised because the Sixers have shown with their strong play of late that championship aspirations are entirely realistic. Embiid commented Monday on trying to get a championship in Philadelphia:

“It’s great. It’s not easy to win in this league. Like I said, you gotta take it one game at a time. You know, when we are at our best, we got a chance against everybody. Even when we’re not, we still got to find ways like tonight, we weren’t good enough. So we just got to find ways to be at our best.”

The schedule certainly isn’t doing the Sixers any favors, but with or without Harden, Philadelphia needs to continue their road warrior ways and keep the second-seed dream alive.

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