It feels like it was just last week that the Sixers vacated the hardwood floors at The Center after an excruciating game-7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Whether you’re prepared to rekindle your relationship with the Sixers or not, time is inching closer to a reunion. The 2021-22 schedule was released this past Friday. With that, it’s time to assess the itinerary for the latest chapter of your Philadelphia 76ers.
We know one thing about the 2021-22 Sixers–they will be a wild card due to the Ben Simmons situation. Perhaps he comes to camp motivated to be great. In such a scenario, I might feel more generous in predicting victories their victories. There’s also a significant chance–perhaps even a probability–that he returns to the team playing the part of a disgruntled star looking for a divorce. In that scenario, I would argue that the victories will likely be harder to come by.
Due to the incredibly inverted roads that the Sixers could find themselves traveling this season, I will save you a disingenuous attempt at predicting their game-by-game outcomes. Rather, I come baring a few observations from the color-coded schedule above. The red cells denote road games. The yellow cells denote back-to-backs. You’ll notice the All-Star break highlighted in pink.
October: 6 games (3 home, 3 away)
November: 15 games (7 home, 8 away)
December: 15 games (5 home, 10 away)
January: 14 games (9 home, 5 away)
February: 10 games (5 home, 5 away)
March: 16 games (9 home, 7 away)
April: 6 games (3 home, 3 away)
Home Stands And Road Trips
The vast majority of the Sixers’ road games will be played as road trips. They only have 9 single-game roadies. The other 32 feature at least two stops before returning home. Conversely, the Sixers have 7 single-game home stands.
It’s also important to note that the Sixers have twelve total home stands and eleven total road trips. The average length of their home stands is 2.83 games. The average road trip is 2.9 games. Perhaps you would argue that it’s more beneficial to have a larger portion of the home-game schedule to be involved in long home stands. I can see the argument for either side of that conversation.
While the travel schedule seems to shake out quite fairly for Philadelphia, it is fair to say that there aren’t many opportunities for the Sixers to get hot by beating up on bad teams at home. All but two of their home stands feature at least one preseason playoff-hopeful. Ten of their eleven road shows feature at least one team in that category, too.
At the end of the day, all thirty teams play each other at least twice. Everyone has to go on road trips. The layout of their schedule appears favorable for Philadelphia. But, they won’t have the luxury of sleep-walking into extended winning streaks this season. They’re going to have to play at a consistently high level if they’re going to carve out their spot near the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Funny how that works, isn’t it?
I’m more than happy to be the old man yelling at the cloud here, but it is ridiculous that the Sixers have to go on two West coast road trips. Their first trip includes Utah, Denver, Portland, Sacramento, and Golden State. Their second includes the Lakers, Clippers, and Suns.
The first trip features three states that border Arizona. Why not just have Philly make a stop in Phoenix while they’re out there? The first trip also features two cities in California. Why not get the Los Angeles games out of the way then, too?
Because of the two separate trips, the Sixers are traveling over 11,000 miles to take care of their obligations with the eight teams on the West coast. For context, that is more than the two-way distance to travel from Philadelphia to Turkey. That could be cut in half by playing those eight teams on one single trip.
The Sixers have thirteen sets of back-to-backs on their schedule. Four feature two home games, while one features two road games. Since the fans are back in attendance, the Sixers may feel an obligation to structure Embiid’s load management so that he’s available for the home halves of their back-to-backs. That may especially be the case given that eight of the Sixers’ twelve back-to-backs that include home games feature a marquee (playoff-hopeful or rival team) opponent.
The back-to-back structures and contexts set the Sixers up for a handful of obvious trap games this season. I should note that, for the purposes of this guide, ‘trap game’ refers to a game in which the Sixers are unlikely to play well because of their own collective level of engagement. It doesn’t mean they won’t win the mentioned game. It just means that they might make it ugly. Of course, an ugly game that isn’t a victory could be classified as a hideous loss. But, that semantic is irrelevant here.
The first is the road game in Charlotte on December 8th. Given that the Sixers play Utah in Philadelphia the next night, on national television, it has ‘trap’ stamped on the calendar. Joel Embiid will want to preserve himself for a home environment against Rudy Gobert, so the Hornets in Charlotte might be a tranquilizer dart, by comparison.
The second comes on the road against the Rockets on January 24th. Houston will be the second stop of a back-to-back in Texas. The Sixers will face the Lakers three nights later in Philly on TNT. Perhaps Embiid even takes a load management game to gear up for the Lakers. Any time you have a top-of-lottery team as the last game of a back-to-back, and you play the Lakers after that, it’s a trap.
The Sixers head to Milwaukee on February 17th for their final game before the All-Star break. It’s the last final exam before Christmas break. And against the defending champions? It might be the most obvious one on the schedule.
The only reason hosting the Cavaliers in March (the fourth, to be exact) is a trap game is that the Sixers have a date with the Heat the very next night. If Simmons is still a Sixer, he’ll likely be focused on his old “pal”, Jimmy Butler. Embiid also likes to show out against Butler and Adebayo. The Sixers, as a team, will likely be jockeying with the Heat for seeding in the East. So, the whole team might have it’s eye on the next night instead of handling the Cavs. That doesn’t mean they’ll lose the game. But, it’s a good bet that they’ll look disinterested.
The last one that comes to mind this far in advance takes place nine days after the trap game against the Cavaliers. It’s a quick trip to lottery-likely Orlando before a showdown in Philly between Embiid and Jokic on ESPN the next night. Understanding the storyline that accompanies that matchup, you very well might see another Embiid load management game, too.
Spanning the majority of November, the Sixers have an eleven-game stretch filled with teams that are either pesky or contending for their respective Conference Finals. It begins with the Chicago Bulls in the Windy City, and then sends the Sixers home for matchups with the Knicks and Bucks in a back-to-back. They then host the Raptors before heading out West for an extended road trip. The road trip features stops in Indiana, Utah, Denver, Portland, Sacramento, and Golden State.
Things let up a smidgen after that, but the Sixers find themselves in another difficult series taking up half of December. They host Utah in the second night of a back-to-back (the first night is the Charlotte trap listed above). Then, they host the Warriors two nights later. The Sixers fly to Memphis to grind with the Grizzlies, and then head back home to play the Heat. That Heat game is followed by a show in Brooklyn the very next day. The Sixers get two days to recuperate before hosting the Pelicans. Of course, the Pelicans don’t project to be that good. But, they profile as a very physical team that likes to bruise. Oh wait, another back-to-back. This one features a visit with an improved Celtics squad. That stretch wraps up with the Hawks visiting Philly after a two-day break.
The toughest stretch comes in the second half of March, and it’s a gauntlet. The Sixers have a three-game home stand against the Mavericks, Raptors, and Heat–with the latter two games serving as a back-to-back. Then, they go on their second West coast trip to battle the Lakers, Clippers, and Suns. The Sixers get one day to return home before hosting the Bucks to wrap up that stretch.
Thoughts and prayers are in order, because those segments are brutal.
It’s not quite as easy to find the easy stretches in Philadelphia’s schedule. But, again, every team plays every team. So, they exist. That doesn’t make them easy to detect, though.
The first sign of good weather comes in a five-game stretch to start January. The Sixers host the Rockets before spending a night in Disney. Then, they return home for a stand against the Spurs, Hornets, and Celtics. The Sixers have a four-night break between the Spurs game and the Hornets game. The only back-to-back is a front-end featuring the Celtics, and it’s the final game of that window.
The first stretch ends with that Celtics back-to-back because the Sixers play in Miami the very next night. However, it’s only a brief storm. The Sixers play in the nation’s capital on the trip back to Philly before hosting the lottery-bound Magic and middling Clippers. Then, they head to Texas for a back-to-back against the Spurs and Rockets, both of which figure to be lottery teams. That Rockets game is the trap game I mentioned above. Houston isn’t expected to be competitive. The Sixers should be able to win without too much difficulty even if they do fall for the trap.
The final easy stretch begins only the last day of March and takes the Sixers through the end of their regular season. They visit Motown before hosting the Hornets. The Hornets game is the front-end of a back-to-back with the Cavs in Cleveland. The road trip extends to Indiana and Toronto before the season wraps up with a back-to-back in Philly against the Pacers and Pistons. That travel schedule is not pretty. But, those opponents all figure to finish behind Philly in the standings.
If you’re thinking these stretches aren’t exactly easy, you’re not crazy at all. I don’t see a stretch that I think is parodically easy. Perhaps that’s because the Sixers did little more than tread water this offseason while many others got better. Perhaps it’s just that their schedule is unlucky in that it doesn’t line up extended stretches of unchallenging opponents.
Five Most Interesting Games
5) October 22nd: The Home-Opener — It’s a battle of teams who appear relatively unchanged from last season, at least on paper. The Sixers host the Nets. It could be the first time Ben Simmons plays in front of a Philly crowd since he passed out of a dunk to scar Sixers fans in game 7. It will ostensibly be the first time the Sixers play Brooklyn’s Big 3, and viewers will get an idea of how they fare against the East’s preseason top dog.
4) December 9th: Embiid Challenges The Defensive Player Of The Year — The Jazz come to Philly. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year is visiting. Embiid has made it clear that he wants to be the Defensive Player of the Year. But, it’s not about stopping Gobert. It’s about putting Gobert’s defensive flaws on full display. Embiid should be motivated to do just that.
3) March 5th: A Night In South Beach — The Sixers seem to take care of business when the Heat come to Philly. But, they haven’t had much success when going to Miami lately. The Sixers should have some chemistry issues sorted out by the time they visit the Heat in March. It’s also a crucial time when everyone is trying to fight for favorable playoff seeds.
2) March 14th: The MVP Versus The Runner-Up — The guy who won the MVP award versus the guy who didn’t win it because of games missed. Get your popcorn.
1) March 29th: The Defending Champs Come To Town — The last time the Bucks came to Philly, Giannis sat on the Sixers logo at mid-court as the Bucks staved off the Sixers in overtime. This time, Joel Embiid figures to be available to play. Oh, and the Sixers and Bucks could very well be fighting for a top-3 seed in the East. This game has all the makings of a critical late-regular-season affair.
Opening night is less than two months away. The Sixers, and their fans, are still at the expense of daily jokes all over digital media. As last offseason came to a close, Tobias Harris said that the Sixers were looking to get their respect back after a miserable 2019-20 season ended in a First Round sweep at the hands of the Celtics.
The Sixers made some inroads last season. But, they still have much left to prove. The next chapter begins on October 20th.