The summer took a significant step in the direction of basketball season yesterday, as the NBA released each team’s schedule for the 2019-20 season. For the franchise and its fans, Monday marked the beginning of an obsessive quest for revenge by the 2019-20 76ers. Looking at the 82-game lineup for the Sixers, it seems that the NBA is especially interested in observing a successful season in the City of Brotherly Love. Allow me to explain.
Longest Winning Streak: 11
Longest Losing Streak: 2 (four times)
As the table shows, I believe that the Sixers will finish with exactly 60 wins (assuming no one misses any extensive period of time), by far the most they’ve accumulated in over a decade. Yes, that is extremely difficult. Yes, allowing for just three home losses seems fallacious. But, there is reasoning behind my beliefs. The Sixers’ chances at reaching the Finals will be contingent upon whether or not they can earn the top seed in the conference. Surveying the last decade, the East’s 1-seed has 8-or-fewer losses in their building. Those same teams have 20-or-fewer losses on the road. With the Sixers likely finishing as an unimpressive road team, they will need to be absolutely dominant at home.
The Sixers have 13 back-to-backs on their schedule, 10 of which include at least one game played away from Philly. Following the team’s management trend over the last season-and-a-half, they like to play Joel Embiid on the home end of the back-to-back. That means the Sixers will almost certainly present an Embiid-less team on the road at least five times over the course of the season. There will also be a few non-back-to-backs that Embiid misses for the purpose of preservation for the playoffs. There will probably be road games that Al Horford misses for the sake of rest. With Horford and Embiid anchoring the defensive juggernaut that will be the Sixers, any games missed for either of them will present a significant weakness on both sides of the ball, especially in hostile territory.
As most teams do, the Sixers love to perform in front of their home crowd. In recent years, however, they have taken it to a much different level when hosting the opposition. Behind what should be one of the five best defenses in the league this season, the Sixers will be able to smother opponents regardless of where they play. But, combining that with the shot of energy provided by the Philly faithful, and each player brings his game up a notch on both ends of the court. Suddenly, the opposition dreads having to come to Philly.
Therefore, with my bet being that Embiid and Horford miss significantly more road games than home games, the Sixers will profile as a respectable road team and an especially-dominant home team.
All-Star Break Splits
With Joel Embiid surely pushing the medical and coaching staffs to do whatever is necessary to ensure his availability against the NBA’s best opponents, it is probable that he most commonly misses the road half of back-to-backs if the road opponent is weak and the game prior to an off-day before consecutive tough opponents. With that being said, these are logical games for Embiid to miss:
November 13th at Magic
November 20th vs Knicks
November 29th at Knicks
December 5th at Wizards
January 18th at Knicks
January 30th at Hawks
February 26th at Cavaliers
March 19th at Hornets
March 26th at Bulls
April 13th at Grizzlies
April 15th vs Hornets
Three Toughest Stretches
Beginning on November 2nd, the Sixers begin a 7-day trip that features stops in Portland, Phoenix, Utah, and Denver. Those names don’t provoke a ton of anxiety, but considering it is a cross-country trip in the very beginning of the season that matches the Sixers up with three of the most respected teams in the West, it will be a difficult stretch that will be worsened by travel fatigue.
Beginning with the Christmas Day matinee with the Bucks, the Sixers play 5 games in 10 days against a mix of playoff teams from both conferences. These five games include four away contests featuring the Magic, Heat, Pacers, and Rockets. The Sixers return home following their dance with the Rockets on January 3rd.
Finally, the tidal wave arrives. The Sixers will take on 9 playoff teams in 12 games spanning from February 11th to March 14th. Before the All-Star break, the Sixers take on the Clippers in Philly. In the games following their return to work, the Sixers are greeted by the likes of the Nets, Bucks, Clippers (again), Lakers, Kings, Warriors, Pistons, and Pacers.
One could argue the 9-day break that accompanies All-Star weekend soothes such a painful stretch, but I personally think the separation allows this 12-game stretch to fall out of focus, making it difficult to maintain the intensity needed to overcome this powerful slate. Yes, this stretch features would-be “free wins” courtesy of the Hawks, Cavaliers, and Knicks. However, that can also be a curse. Facing opponents who are objectively levels below the Sixers could cause them to let their guards down, setting them up for beatdowns by their pre-or-proceeding opponents.
What makes it worse is that there is no sensible ordering to this stretch. The Sixers go from Philly to Milwaukee, back to Philly, to Cleveland, back to Philly, and then to California for a week (to play 8 all-star caliber players, 5 of whom are perennial-MVP candidates). Traveling back-and-forth, between time zones and climates, will exacerbate the difficulty of playing the Bucks, Hawks, Cavs, and Clippers. The Sixers need to strive for a 7-5 or 8-4 record over this stretch, for, while their schedule over the same stretch isn’t a cake walk, the Bucks have a far less challenging group of opponents to play synchronously. These 12 games could certainly change the trajectory of the Sixers’ season if things go poorly.
Three Easiest Stretches
Immediately following their tough stretch from November 2nd to November 8th, the Sixers have a six-game stretch that includes five teams projected to finish below .500. Beginning on November 10th, the representatives of Philadelphia encounter the Hornets, Cavaliers, Magic, Thunder, Cavaliers, and Knicks over an eleven-day span. Three of the affairs are in Philly, while the other three take the Sixers as far west as Oklahoma City. While I do predict two losses in this stretch, Embiid’s game-to-game management in the first few weeks prior to this stretch could certainly make my predictions seem silly.
Commencing with a date with the Nets in Philly on January 15th and concluding with a meeting with the Raptors in Canada eight days later, the Sixers have a five-game docket in which their best opponent represents the Brooklyn borough. Although they encounter the Nets twice, they also face the Bulls, Knicks, and Raptors. Taking into account that they get one day’s rest before facing the Nets and Bulls in Philly and the Nets and Raptors in their respective buildings, as well as the fact that they can drive to two of the games and only travel as far as Chicago, this grouping suddenly becomes only as difficult as the opponent they play. The Nets shouldn’t be more than a pesky flea to the Sixers, and the other three opponents should be less than that. (Again, although I have two losses penciled in here, Embiid’s health management could make my predictions look foolish)
Beginning on March 16th, the Sixers have a seven-course meal of food items that should just melt on their tongues. The Wizards, Raptors, Hornets, Hawks, Timberwolves, Bulls, and Suns are on the menu. Four of the seven will be played in Philly, with a pair of back-to-backs featuring back-end home games. While the Sixers could easily hurt themselves by playing down to the competition, they are far superior to all seven opponents. All they have to do is play to their own level. Facing a grouping in which the Raptors are the best team, the Sixers would have no one but themselves to blame if they come out with less than 6-7 wins.
Five Best Games
5) March 31st: Houston, (do) we have a problem(?) — Embiid versus Westbrook is always a treat. Embiid has yet to beat the Brodie in his career, and the change of scenery likely won’t make it any easier for him to capture that elusive first win. Oh yeah, and I haven’t even mentioned James Harden yet. Two of the NBA’s most explosive guards versus the NBA’s best starting five, in front of the NBA’s craziest fans. If you aren’t excited, you don’t have a pulse.
4) November 23rd: Bienvenido a Philadelphia — Jimmy Butler returns to Philly; Heat Twitter vs Sixers Twitter, Part I.
3) March 1st: Dreams and (a whole lotta) Nightmares — The last time the Sixers faced Kawhi Leonard on the road, they were on the wrong side of history. This will be their second chance to exact revenge, but this road game is the more important contest. Beating what is widely-believed to be the NBA’s best team on their home floor would change the Sixers’ psychological strength going forward. Beating Kawhi Leonard in Los Angeles, although it might not affect him, could be a season-changing outcome. This will be the Sixers’ biggest test of the season, and I have a feeling that they began studying a while ago. It’s time to put an end to the nightmares that have plagued this fanbase since May.
2) October 23rd: Set the tone — The Sixers have won just two of their last eight regular season contests against the Celtics. They were dispatched in five games by a short-handed and less-talented team the last time they played the Celtics in the playoffs. Regardless of how different the rosters look, the Celtics have owned the Sixers for quite some time. Now, the Sixers are trending towards championship contention, while the Celtics are just trying to remain relevant. For one night, forget the future and remember the past. Don’t look past what has been the team’s biggest kryptonite for years. Start the season with a win and set the tone for the next 81.
1) December 25th: Naughty or nice? — Finally. After nearly two decades, the Sixers have earned the respect of a Christmas Day home game. For the sake of viewership, the NBA has put the Sixers up against reigning-MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. In what is likely to be a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals, we have the Greek Freak versus the Fresh Prince and The Process. If the Sixers are going to establish themselves as the East’s best team, this is the game in which they will do it. Forget being on Kris Kringle’s ‘Nice’ list, whoever is naughtier gets the present in the NBA.
We are 2 months, 1 week, 2 days, 20 hours, and 54 minutes (but who’s counting?) until Joel Embiid tips off against Enes Kanter. With the NBA releasing each team’s schedule for the 2019-20 season yesterday, we’ve begun to focus ourselves on something that we haven’t stopped thinking about — revenge.