This time one week ago, the sky was falling for Philadelphia 76ers fans.
The team was fresh off a heartbreaking loss to the rival Boston Celtics and a defeat to the Miami Heat that the Sixers treated with all the energy of a Summer League or preseason contest. The Sixers were well back of Milwaukee and Boston in the standings with Cleveland nipping at their heels. Philadelphia was about to enter a five games-in-seven nights road trip that was basically the league’s schedule makers flipping the double bird to the City of Brotherly Love. Rumors of James Harden leaving for Houston in the offseason were coming out of the woodwork. Some folks were even fretting that on this trajectory, Joel Embiid was bound to ask out and force a trade before too long.
Point being, things were looking awfully bleak around these parts.
Then, hey, would you look at that! The Sixers rose to the occasion! Philadelphia went 4-1 on that insanely difficult road trip, only losing the tail end of a back-to-back in Dallas. In speaking with the NBA dictionary folks, they’re going to use that spot to define “schedule loss” in the upcoming edition.
Aside from that, though, what a ride! The Sixers started things out by getting swift revenge on those Miami Heat, dispatching them by 23 points even without the services of Embiid. Then, they had the ABC Saturday night game for the second straight week, facing a Milwaukee Bucks club sporting the league’s best record and riding a 16-game winning streak. Down by 18 points in the second half, the Sixers displayed an incredible bit of resilience to come back and bring down the Bucks, with stars Embiid and Harden delivering the kill shots in the final minute and change.
Up next, Indiana was not a defensive masterclass, but seeing Philadelphia race to a season-high 147 points was sure fun. Finally, with another road back-to-back to go and Harden getting the load management this time around, Embiid and the Sixers secured another highly impressive win, capping the road trip with another 23-point margin over the Timberwolves.
Thanks to the Sixers’ efforts and a three-game skid by Boston, Philadelphia is now just 1.5 games back of the Celtics for the two seed in the East (albeit with Boston already owning the tiebreaker). The dream of home court advantage in the second round of the playoffs seemed dead a week ago, but it’s now at least back on the table. Additionally, the Sixers actually created a tad more separation over Cleveland, now three games up on the young Cavaliers. As things stand, you would much rather see the Brooklyn Nets in the first round than the red-hot New York Knicks.
Now, I’m not hear to police anyone’s fandom. So if you’re one of those people that thinks none of this matters because the team still has no shot at getting out of the second round, I understand and I’m probably not changing your mind. I’d agree Boston is just a brutal matchup for Philadelphia and I wouldn’t expect the Sixers to win such a series.
But let’s at least take a moment to enjoy what was a really great week. Sports are a form of entertainment; allow yourselves to be entertained. The Sixers showed a great deal of backbone over that road trip. And crazy things happen in the postseason every year. Philadelphia has the top offense in the league since Harden returned from injury in early December. When Embiid tries on the defensive end, the team is pretty excellent on that side of the ball as well, as we saw last night in Minnesota (and newsflash, he’ll be trying every night in the playoffs). He’s “gonna dominate” no matter who he’s playing. Harden is leading the league in assists per game. Tyrese Maxey has taken to his return as a starter like a fish takes to water and scored 20 points in six straight games. There are a lot of cool and fun things happening!
So if you made me choose, do I think the Sixers get out of the second round of the playoffs? No. But I think they could! And injuries happen, there are weird bounces (sometimes four of them), etc., etc. Postseason aside, though, let’s just appreciate what was a highly enjoyable stretch of basketball from the Sixers. We want the players to treat the regular season like it matters, so let’s do the same and acknowledge the wins when they come our way.
All that being said, however, I reserve the right to take all of this back if they lose Friday night at home to Portland. I’m still a Philadelphia sports fan after all.