After a huge win vs. the Denver Nuggets in late January, things have been more of a grind lately. There were a pair of inverse-style wins, going up big over the Cleveland Cavaliers and nearly squandering a 28-point lead, but hanging on. Then there was a furious comeback against the Memphis Grizzlies. The outcome is great in each case, but the vibes really hit different, don’t they?
But there was the blown 20 point leads to teams like the Orlando Magic and the pre-Josh Hart Knicks, the team’s predilection for deploying most of their reserves, (and not even their best reserves) at the same time costing them winnable and important games, apparently costing Tyrese Maxey some confidence, and inevitably, like last season, costing Joel Embiid some MVP votes; these nationally televised showdown battles always swing our odds, discourse, and polls more than they probably should.
Let’s check in on the team now with 20 games remaining until the playoffs.
While Milwaukee has ripped off 16 in a row, and surged into first overall place, the Sixers are just 8-6 over their last 14, and have dropped three consecutive games Joel Embiid was active for. Per ESPN.com:
They trail second place Boston by four games, the Bucks by five. They still have a 2.5 game lead on the Cleveland Cavaliers for third place. The difference between playing a team like the Brooklyn Nets or the surging New York Knicks in the first round could mean a world of difference, as we begin to look towards potential first round matchups.
League wide, the Sixers, just like last time we checked, possess an encouraging 4th best overall record.
Not shabby! Even though there’s a sense of creeping disappointment in much of the fanbase on Twitter or in our comment section, this is still one of the top teams in the game by this crucial measure.
Even more encouraging, is that the Sixers have the 2nd best record in the league since James Harden returned from his injury, spanning the team’s last 38 games.
League wide standings since Dec. 9th, 2022:
Recycling this still-applicable description from our last stock check:
“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. Glaff 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 ten teams, per offensive rating according to NBA.com:
The Sixers rank 8th, dropping 115.8 points per 100 possessions. The Josh Hart trade for the Knicks has been a game changer for them.
And looking at defensive rating:
Philadelphia tops out at 8th overall allowing 111.9 points per 100. They’re still top 10 in the league on each end of the floor, but two weeks ago they ranked 6th overall in each. Now, down to 8th best in each category.
Nate Silver’s Fivethirtyeight.com gives the Sixers an 8 percent chance to win the title:
That’s actually up one percent from a couple weeks ago. But clearly, this algorithm doesn’t know Kevin Durant is on the Suns yet, otherwise those Phoenix odds (3%) would be a bit higher, and eat into the total percentage allotment above them.
One bit of good news, according to Tankathon.com, the Sixers no longer have the hardest schedule remaining, relinquishing that dubious distinction to the Toronto Raptors.
One thing to keep an eye on, is that the Cleveland Cavaliers are given the easiest remaining schedule in the entire NBA, and the Knicks are not far behind either:
Philadelphia as noted above, still has a 2.5 game lead over Donovan Mitchell and co. But that battle for third place may be closer than our recent LB seeding poll makes it out.
Basketball-Reference.com’s playoff probability model gives Philly a 49.4 percent shot at the third seed, and a 46.2 percent shot at a fourth or lower playoff seed:
You can see it still carves out a 4.5 percent chance they steal one of the top two seeds from Boston or Milwaukee. That would be an unexpected, but enormous boon, if somehow that panned out. As frustrating as this team can be, if they somehow had home court advantage vs. either Boston or Milwaukee for round two, everything would feel differently.
Per NBA.com, their power rankings have slid up, then down since late January.
- Third overall on Jan. 23
- first overall, Jan. 30 (after beating the Nugget)
- third in early February (after blowing a pair of 21 point leads to the Magic and Knicks.
- Down to 4th, after losing three out of five games, including a concerning dud against the skeleton crew Celtics
- And in the most recent (Feb. 27) list, they’re stuck at 4th behind Milwaukee, Boston, and Denver, from top to bottom.
Back on Feb. 5th, just as Kyrie Irving was traded to the Mavericks, the Sixers enjoyed their best title odds of the entire season over on DraftKings at +900.
When KD was traded they dipped down to +950. By Feb. 18th, after a couple unimpressive games, their odds dipped down to +1100 (where they’ve hovered for most of the season).
And now they’re even bigger underdogs with +1300 odds. The current championship odds on DraftKings, notice the Warriors have supplanted the Los Angeles Clippers over the last week, perhaps their Russell Westbrook gamble isn’t going as planned thus far:
This might be your last chance to bet on the Bucks with odds nearly double that of the Celtics, when in reality Milwaukee may well be the best team in the entire NBA.
Buy, Sell, Hold
We’d been steadily making money buying Sixers stock since this series began, but this last window was our first significant loss.
I wanted to gamble that they’d host and beat the Boston Celtics coming out of the All-Star Game break, then take care of a Miami Heat group that simply isn’t what it was one year ago. So I recommended we buy a few more shares.
Instead, they lost two super winnable heartbreakers, and reminded fans that there really is a gap between themselves and the top teams in the NBA, the Celtics and Bucks. They didn’t look like a team who’d spent much time figuring out how to beat a Miami Heat defense, the one that knocked them out of the playoffs minus P.J. Tucker to boot. They had about nine months to look forward to getting some revenge, and instead it was Erik Spoelstra’s group who looked sharper and more interested; less talented teams out thinking, outshooting, and outworking Philly has been an issue in a handful of losses.
Tyrese Maxey looks to have rejoined the starting unit, and with that, perhaps regained some confidence. His reemergence as a high-end shooter and slasher could certainly provide a much needed boost.
But it’s getting more and more difficult to sell ourselves on this team winning a best of seven game series on the road in Milwaukee or Boston. And it’s getting increasingly worrisome that they may find themselves engaged in a first-round war as teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks, and Miami Heat are far from likes of the pre-Jimmy Butler Heat (2018), pre- KD, Kyrie Nets (2019), or Beal-Russ Wizard pushovers (2021) they’ve faced in the past.
I think the chances they lose in round one are greater than the chances they make the Conference Finals.
Doc Rivers appears to finally be addressing some quick-fix rotation problems he needlessly foisted upon the team for the bulk of the year. Maybe we’ll have less all-bench, or backup five hair-pulling moments now. Maybe. But I cannot in good conscience recommend we buy stock here with these three road games on the slate:
Going 2-1 over this stretch would definitely be a win. But the only way to get people truly excited again here is to snap the Bucks league-best 16 game winning streak. And as +4.5 road dogs who haven’t played their best ball over the last 14 games, I’m selling.
But I’ll try to enjoy every moment of it, just in case it’s all downhill from here.