The NBA All-Star break gives every team a chance to hit the reset button and take some much needed time away from the game before they return for the stretch run of the season. This Sixers team seemingly would need a break more than most would. After an up and down first 55 games, the team finds themselves with a 34-21 record, currently sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
This is certainly not the record or place in the standings that the team and fans had envisioned before the year started. From Ben Simmons’ ongoing refusal to shoot to Joel Embiid’s injuries and lethargic play, and Al Horford’s clunky fit in the offense, this season has been far from immaculate. However, with turmoil comes hope and optimism as the Sixers can now turn their attention to the final stretch and preparing themselves for postseason basketball.
Reasons for Optimism
On Tuesday night, the Sixers revealed a new starting lineup with the full complement of roster additions acquired at the trade deadline. It went about as well as it could go. Al Horford was summoned to the sixth man role, his first time coming off the bench all season. Brett Brown inserted the recently surging Furkan Korkmaz into the starting lineup.
While Korkmaz himself did not have a particularly good game, he provided invaluable spacing for the rest of the Sixers starters, specifically Embiid and Simmons. The Sixers came out firing and never let up en route to an impressive win over a title-contending Clippers team. Most importantly, this was the most complete game Embiid and Simmons have played together all season.
Embiid got back to being his dominant self in the post, getting to the line at will and racking up 26 points. Simmons also used this extra space to his advantage matching Embiid’s 26 points of his own to go along with 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
The move to the bench also seemed to benefit Horford, who did not have to play as many minutes at power forward with Embiid and instead got to play center most of the game with Simmons running the show alongside him. Horford immediately looked more comfortable and out of his 28 minutes, only 10 of them came with Embiid. The Sixers will still close games with their patented five man group of Embiid, Simmons, Horford, Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson.
Getting off to faster starts with more spacing in the starting lineup is a necessary and smart move by Brett Brown. The team should be able to flow better throughout the game offensively while mixing and matching lineups that work best together and involve key bench contributors such as Matisse Thybulle, as well as the recently acquired Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks.
The closing lineup consisting of the original starting five still can clamp down defensively on teams down the stretch exactly how they did Tuesday night against the Clippers. If the Sixers can find a rhythm playing this way the rest of the regular season, they could certainly be one of the more dangerous teams in the Eastern Conference playoffs with the ability to fulfill those lofty preseason expectations.
Post All-Star Outlook
Although the team currently sits at fifth in the Eastern Conference, there is still plenty of time to gain ground. The Sixers have the fourth easiest remaining schedule in the league with plenty of Eastern Conference bottom feeders remaining on the schedule.
They have generally been consistent at beating the teams they should this year especially at home. However, the road woes have been apparent all season and not only against good teams but bad ones too. They need to tighten things up away from the Wells Fargo Center and churn out some good road wins down the stretch.
This is the only way for them to seriously make up some ground on the teams ahead of them in the standings such as the Heat and Celtics. I believe the Sixers have as much talent as anyone in the East and could certainly win multiple playoff series without having home-court advantage.
Nevertheless, the path to the Finals would look a whole lot easier as the third or fourth seed as opposed to their current fifth seed. By taking care of business in the games they should, coupled with improved road play, the Sixers could very well find themselves in a better playoff position between now and mid-April. Only time will tell, but hopefully, Tuesday night’s win and reshuffled lineup will be the jolt this team needed.