Portland, Oregon. – Through the first 24 games of the NBA season, you could have put 76 players along with the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat as one of the most disappointing teams in the league.
Despite the high roster turnover, it looks like the Sixers will be going through the same old song and dance.
They were an injury-prone version of Jekyll and Hyde. Some nights, they looked like a team destined to fight for the Eastern Conference title. Other nights, they looked old and like a team lacking chemistry, going through the motions in hopes their talent would carry them to victory.
The Sixers’ inconsistency resulted in a 12-12 record after a humbling loss on the road to the last-place Houston Rockets on December 5. who are they.
Was it Doc Rivers? Critics said he should have had better rotations and made more tweaks in the game. Was it about the pairing between Joel Embiid and James Harden? The belief was that the cornerstones of the NBA could not coexist. Or was it Chief of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey? The holdouts felt that Morey’s unofficial acquisitions were not as good as advertised.
While the outside world was pointing fingers, the Sixers, now between the ages of 28 and 16, got their core right, made a few changes, and then got down to business. Results? Team has the NBA on notice.
Since December 9, there has been no better team than the Sixers. Over the last 20 games, at 16-4, they have the best record in the NBA.
The Sixers moved from tied for seventh in the East to third in the standings. Thursday night’s road win over the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center would lift them into the second-place game with the Milwaukee Bucks (29-16) with 37 games remaining.
But there’s a lot of basketball left, and while it’s been doing well lately, the Sixers are far from the final product.
Their defense has retreated from their perimeter as they struggle to stop their elite wingers from scoring. This led to De’Anthony Melton replacing Tyrese Maxey in the starting lineup due to the pressing need for more perimeter defence.
The Sixers will face another test against the Blazers’ Damian Lillard. Al-Qaeda, a member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team, has scored at least 30 points in each of his last six games. That includes a season-high 50-point performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 12, followed by a 40-point performance against the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday and a 44-point performance against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday.
Lillard averaged 39 points over those six games, but the Blazers (21-23) have won only two of the six games. So if it gets hot, the Sixers can only hope Thursday’s game becomes another turn-but-not-break situation.
This scenario would not be new for the Sixers. They surrendered 27 points to Kawhi Leonard on Tuesday victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. The Sixers escaped with a one-point win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, but gave up 35 points to LeBron James. Russell Westbrook finished with 20 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists. The Sixers gave up 38 points to Jordan Clarkson in a one-point victory over the Utah Jazz the night before.
It all comes after the Sixers dropped 37 points to Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Shay Gilgos Alexander (January 12) and 41 points to Chicago Bulls guard Zack LaVine (January 6) in their recent home losses.
So while the Sixers roll in the winning column, defense is the area Rivers wants to improve going forward.
He said, “Then our speed.” “There are nights when we lose our pace and this is where, in qualifying, you just can’t do that.”