That the schedule for the first half of the regular season came out on Friday–just two days before training camp was scheduled to open–is a testament to the degree of obscurity that this NBA season will face. Nonetheless, here we are, just about two weeks away from the regular season tip-off. As Tobias Harris said in his media availability on Friday, the 76ers are looking to get their respect back this season after a very frustrating performance last season. Let’s take a look at how the first 37 games shake out for the Sixers.
Longest Winning Streak: 5
Longest Losing Streak: 2 (twice)
As the table shows, I am very high on the Sixers in the first half of their schedule. A 27-10 start seems fallacious, but there are a couple factors that I believe will play significantly for them. First, their slate of opponents is favorable. Sixteen of their first thirty-six games are against teams that possessed lottery picks in last month’s draft or figure to be in the lottery in the upcoming draft.
Although there will be no home crowd playing to the Sixers’ advantage, they will still have the luxury of playing in their home arena and not having to travel extensively to play at the Wells Fargo Center. Four of their first nineteen home games are against probable lottery teams. But, twelve of their other fifteen home opponents either took a step backwards this offseason or pose favorable matchups for Philly. I expect that they will be able to maintain their self-accountability at home.
As for the road, where the Sixers were abysmal last season, nine of their first seventeen contests will be against lottery-projected teams. I believe that that will be advantageous, although they still won’t be dominant away from Philly.
The Sixers have six back-to-backs in the first half of their schedule. Four feature a home-and-away pairing. The other two are both away games. As of now, there doesn’t seem to be any plan to have fans in attendance. So, the Sixers may not feel the need to tie Embiid’s back-to-back availability to home games, specifically. That makes it much harder to deduce which games he may sit for Load Management purposes. Nonetheless, seeing as the Sixers were missing one star due to injury in the playoffs last season, expect them to be careful with their stars in this compressed season.
My bet is that the Sixers, with the best depth they’ve had in years and pieces that better fit their core, continue their dominance at home and are able to restore some of their respectability on the road.
Month-By-Month Schedule Breakdown
The Sixers have a particularly difficult seven-game stretch spanning eleven days in early January. It features three road games, with destinations including Brooklyn, Atlanta, and Memphis. The four home games include Washington, Denver, and Miami (twice). Brooklyn, Denver, and Miami all project to be better teams than the Sixers. Atlanta and Washington should be improved (still, not as good as the Sixers). Memphis will be returning its core of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant, which led them to a play-in game last season.
In early February, the Sixers have a seven-game stretch that includes a four-game trip out West. The three home games are against Portland, Brooklyn, and Houston. Portland and Brooklyn will offer plenty of difficulty for the Sixer defense. Then, they go to Sacramento, Portland, Phoenix, and Utah. The Kings won’t really scaring anyone, but Phoenix and Utah will offer their own difficulties in addition to the travel fatigue. They wrap it up with the Houston game. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two months, you know there’s no telling what the Rockets will look like come February.
The last difficult stretch of the first half–three games spanning five days–comes almost immediately after the second dosage. The Sixers have a two-game series with the Raptors in Florida (yes, it’s hard to get used to) followed by a home game against the Mavericks. The Raptors took a step back this offseason with the departures of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, but still profile as a tough matchup for the Sixers.
The Sixers open their season with a three-game stretch against two lottery-bound squads and one fringe playoff team. As long as they execute in the season-opener against Washington, they should be able to jump out to a 3-0 start. There shouldn’t be an issue with handling the two-game roadie that follows against the Knicks and Cavaliers.
Not long after the first stretch, the Sixers encounter a four-game schedule consisting of three games against projected lottery teams. They play Orlando in their building, and then take on Charlotte (twice) and Washington in a three-game home stand.
While there isn’t any other prolonged stretch that projects to be particularly easy, there is a healthy mix of challenge and favor within the schedule.
Five Most Interesting Games
5) December 23rd: Come Out Strong — It is a battle of new-look teams, with Washington visiting Philly in both teams’ season-opening games. Russell Westbrook will debut next to Bradley Beal, and Deni Avdija will get his first taste of NBA ball. On the other side, Philadelphia will show Seth Curry, Danny Green, and a number of new Sixers for the first time. While the first game of the season doesn’t really indicate the team’s overall outlook, it’s always nice to open with a tone-setting victory.
4) February 4th: Dame Time — Damian Lillard, by himself, is must-watch basketball. The Blazers are fresh off of a wonderful offseason in which they layered their depth and got bigger. This should make for an explosive showing.
3) February 25th: Luka Comes To Town — More must-watch basketball. The Sixers will look to avenge their sweep at the hands of the Mavericks last season, and it will be a marvelous battle between an elite offensive creator and an elite perimeter defender.
2) February 6th: Durant Is In The Building — It will be the first time the Sixers welcome Durant to Philly as a member of the rival Nets. This will be a big test for the Sixers, as Brooklyn projects to be one of the three best teams in the East.
1) January 27th: You Come At The King, You Best Not Miss — The defending champs are in town, and the Sixers will want to assert themselves and prove that they are worthy of national respect.
The Sixers will tip off against the Wizards in less than three weeks to open their 37-game first half schedule. They’ve made one thing clear thus far–they are out to get their respect back this season.