I Like the Difficulty of the Sixers’ Early-Season Schedule

Photo Credit - Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Everybody talks about how challenging the Sixers’ schedule is, but I kind of like it.

In lieu of a harrowing slog toward the playoffs, you’re really just getting the hard part out of the way early.

Ten of the first 15 are on the road, including a five-game West Coast road swing. The reward for running that gauntlet is a “welcome home!” game against the Warriors, just seven days removed from a visit to Oracle Arena.

Yea, it’s gonna be a merciless start, but do you want Golden State now, or later?

This is a Sixers team that will need time to jell, evolve, and learn how to win. I’d prefer they start that curve in games where they won’t be favored, instead of facing pressure to get the job done right off the bat. Expectations feel like they’re a bit high for a squad that’s somewhere between nascent and burgeoning on the developmental scale.

We’re probably looking at a 5-10 or 4-11 start, but I don’t think anyone was expecting otherwise, not unless Ben Simmons and a restricted Joel Embiid come flying out of the gates ala Rhys Hoskins. Markelle Fultz is starting the season with the second unit and will need some time. I don’t know if a full-strength squad is winning at Houston anyway, so let’s get the ducks in a row before we get ahead of ourselves.

This isn’t next-level thinking; the flip side is that the back-end schedule is incredibly ideal.

You’re starting the final 15 games with six of seven at home against the likes of Brooklyn and New York. Assuming you tread water from December to March, there’s a really good chance to barrel towards the postseason with some momentum-building wins.

For the hell of it, let’s go down the list and see where we end up, starting with the first 15.

10/18 – at Wizards (LOSS)

Season openers are always hard to predict.

I see John Wall leading the Wizards to a close, fourth-quarter win. They’ve been solid in the preseason and they’ll be a top-four Eastern Conference team.

For what it’s worth, the Sixers played Oklahoma City tough in last year’s opener, a six-point home loss.

10/20 – vs. Celtics (WIN)

Not sure why, but I think the Sixers get it done in the home opener, which should feature the best crowd we’ve seen at the Wells Fargo Center in some time.

Just a gut feeling. Am I crazy?

10/21 – at Raptors (LOSS)

They lose in Toronto on short rest after an emotional win.

The Sixers went 5-12 in these back-to-backs last year. The interesting thing is that four of those wins came on the road when the team wasn’t always playing with a full-strength roster. The usage of Joel Embiid in these short turnaround situations, and the minutes restriction imposed on him, will be a monolithic storyline this season.

This will also be the third game in a row that the Sixers face an All-Star point guard (Wall, Kyrie Irving, and Kyle Lowry).

10/23 – at Pistons (WIN)

This one is critical because the Pistons are probably going to be in that seven to ten range in the east.

No one expects the Sixers to jump Toronto and Washington this year, but they need to consistently beat these mid-conference teams if they’re going to slide into the postseason. This game provides a good early barometer in that department.

10/25 vs. Rockets (LOSS)

We’ll see how much home court factors in, but I just don’t see a win here.

10/28 at Mavericks (LOSS)

Toss up?

The Mavs weren’t great last season and won’t be that great this season. Philly gets two days off before this Texas swing. Consider this a wildly successful trip if they pip Dallas before heading down to Houston.

10/30 at Rockets (LOSS)

Nope.

11/1 vs. Hawks (WIN)

They’ll get it done at home and beat the rebuilding Hawks for the first time since March of 2015.

11/3 vs. Pacers (WIN)

Two in a row to improve to 4-5.

I’d feel pretty good if they go into the long road trip with four wins.

11/7 at Jazz (LOSS)

This is where the shitty part starts. You get a playoff team in Utah (sans Gordon Hayward) to start off the west coast trip.

11/9 at Kings (LOSS)

Outside of the Lakers matchup, this is the best opportunity for a win out west. I’m not sure what to make of Sacramento going into the new year, but they’re probably headed for mediocrity in the west.

I think the Sixers go 1-4 on the trip, but 2-3 would be phenomenal, and this is how you get there.

11/11 at Warriors (LOSS)

Loss.

11/13 at Clippers (LOSS)

Loss.

11/15 at Lakers (WIN)  

Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Ben Simmons, and Brandon Ingram all on the same court?

Mmmm.. that sounds good. I think I’ll have that.

It’s critical to get a win here and take some juice back home. I like the fact that there’s a day off between the Clippers and Lakers games without the necessity of travel. No flight between those games gives you a chance to settle a bit and get some rest.

11/18 vs. Warriors (LOSS)

Should be fun if it’s anything like this:

First 15 games = five wins, 10 losses

This could very easily be 4-11 or 6-9 depending on a couple of those swing games. Maybe they lose to Boston at home but beat Dallas on the road instead. Maybe that Sacramento game goes the other way. It’s hard to say, but I’m not sure they’re going 7-8 in these first 15.

The next five after November 8th are all at home, with Utah coming off a Houston trip and Portland flying in from Memphis. I like the Sixers’ chances to win those games and improve to 7-10.

That’s really not that bad going into the holiday season.

Let’s skip the middle chunk of the schedule and take a look at the final 15 games:

3/16 vs. Nets (WIN)

Easy enough.

3/19 vs. Hornets (WIN)

Two days rest before another home game = win.

3/21 vs. Grizzlies (WIN)

Probably the toughest matchup of the three-game home stand, but I think they get it done.

Last year’s home game against the Grizz was the famous double overtime loss, when Embiid didn’t play the second OT because of his minutes restriction. That result certainly changes if he’s in the game.

3/22 at Magic (LOSS)

Feels like a loss with a quick turnaround sandwiched in here.

3/24 vs. Timberwolves (WIN)

I’m curious to see how the offseason additions improve this squad.

The Sixers split with the Wolves last season, a team that should feature a starting lineup of Jeff Teague, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Taj Gibson. In a lot of ways, they’re a good benchmark for the post-Process era, since they’re constructed in a similar fashion via several years of high draft picks and a free agent signing or two.

Difference is, when they were losing, they were actually trying to win.

3/26 vs. Nuggets (WIN)

Win.

3/28 vs. Knicks (WIN)

Win.

3/30 at Hawks (LOSS)

I’ll call this a loss just for the fact that I have them coming off three straight wins.

Again, Atlanta will be dreck this year as they blow it up and start the rebuild. It will be William Sherman-esque, but they’ll probably snag at least one win against the Sixers.

4/1 at Hornets (LOSS)

A day off before a very short trip to Charlotte. I’ll put it down as a loss just because I’m playing averages here, but I think this one could go either way.

4/3 vs. Nets (WIN)

Pencil it in.

4/4 at Pistons (LOSS)

I’m not feeling the road trip on a back-to-back.

4/6 vs. Cavs (LOSS)

Maybe you catch Lebron and company snoozing if they’ve got the #1 seed already wrapped up.

Otherwise, put this one in the “L” column.

4/8 vs. Mavericks (WIN)

Yup.

4/10 at Hawks (WIN)

I think they can certainly snag a win here.

4/11 vs. Bucks (WIN)

It’s a back-to-back, but that’s alright. I really do think they can finish with three-straight wins.

https://twitter.com/SixersNews0719/status/916793067625172993

Last 15 games = 10 wins, five losses

They really have a shot at winning two-thirds of their games down the stretch.

When you combine those 30 total games on the front and back of the calendar, I’ve got them at 15-15, right at the .500 mark. If the Sixers can hold serve and play five-hundred ball for the middle chunk of the schedule (26-26), we’re looking at a final record of 41 and 41. That probably gets you into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. 42-40 definitely gets you in, and a losing record might even be good enough, depending on how the rest of the conference shakes out. We’re only a few years removed from the 38-44 Bucks and Hawks making the playoffs.

I asked Dario Saric about the schedule, and whether he had a preference on going out west early, or starting off the schedule in Philadelphia:

“Maybe I’d like to have a couple of more games at home, to start in front of our fans and try to play good basketball and (learn how to play together). So home games, and then after that some away games. But this is an NBA schedule. Sometimes it’s like this. Of course we’ll give 100% and try to play the best we can in those away games.”

My prediction: 41-41, 8th seed in the east

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