Thankfully we’re done with the All-Star break and we can now transition from Fergie and Kevin Hart to meaningful basketball.
Before the season, I had the Sixers going 41-41 and nabbing the 8th seed in the east. A lot of that was predicated on thinking that Joel Embiid would miss a bunch of games, but that the team would have enough talent to turn the corner and sniff the playoffs for the first time in years. I think a lot of people were right around that 38 to 42 win range, and those predictions were made with the assumption that Markelle Fultz would be on the floor.
Playing without the #1 overall draft pick, they’re 30-25 coming out of the break and currently 7th in the east, just two games behind the 4th place Wizards and three games ahead of the 9th place Pistons. Looks pretty good, right? They really exceeded expectations in the first part of the season, even with some crappy losses thrown in (Sacramento, Phoenix, Brooklyn).
Brett Brown’s team can finish 11-16 and still hit the .500 mark, but I highly, highly doubt that they win fewer than 15 games down the stretch. The Sixers’ schedule is back loaded with contests against subpar teams and sets up nicely for a postseason run.
For starters, the remainder of the schedule features this:
- 13 home games
- 14 away games
- six back-to-backs
- 10 games vs. teams currently in playoff position
- 17 games vs. teams not currently in playoff position
- zero games against the Raptors, Celtics, Warriors, Rockets, and Spurs, who have five of the six best winning percentages in the NBA (Cleveland is the other)
That’s incredibly ideal. You got the elite squads out of the way early, which means that the toughest matchups down the stretch are a couple of games against the Cavs and Bucks, with visits from the T-Wolves and Nuggets creating an interesting wrinkle. Otherwise you’re looking at a large chunk of games against bottom feeders like Charlotte, Atlanta, New York, Orlando, and Brooklyn.
Statistically, they’re landing anywhere from first to to third in terms of easiest remaining NBA schedule:
NBA 2017-18 Strength of schedule until today and for the rest of the season, split by opponent's offensive and defensive efficiency. pic.twitter.com/7lgGOupWwJ
— Ed Küpfer (@EdKupfer) February 21, 2018
If they do what they’ve done all year, they’ll be fighting for home court advantage, though Brown said Wednesday that’s not necessarily the priority, explaining to reporters that’s it more about navigating those back-to-backs and going into the postseason with a healthy Joel Embiid:
“Everything is still, and it should be, delivering him to a playoff round. It’s not like cramming for the exam and doing whatever we can to get home court. It’s not that at all. So I feel like the line, the path we’re all on, is both professional and responsible. It’s that, more than trying to cram for an exam.”
Here’s what they’ve got for the remainder of the season, with my predictions in parentheses:
- 2/22 – at Chicago (win)
- 2/24 – vs. Orlando (win)
- 2/25 – at Washington (loss)
- 2/27 – at Miami (loss)
I think they win in Chicago and Orlando, drop the back-to-back in Washington (even with Embiid) and then lose in Miami. I’ve got them at 2-2 to finish February.
- 3/1 – at Cleveland (loss)
- 3/2 – vs. Charlotte (win)
- 3/4 – at Milwaukee (loss)
- 3/6 – at Charlotte (win)
- 3/8 – at Miami (loss)
- 3/11 – at Brooklyn (win)
- 3/13 – vs. Indiana (win)
- 3/15 – at New York (loss*)
- 3/16 – at Brooklyn (loss)
- 3/19 – vs. Charlotte (win)
- 3/21 – vs. Memphis (win)
- 3/22 – at Orlando (loss)
- 3/24 – vs. Minnesota (win)
- 3/26 – vs. Denver (win)
- 3/28 – vs. New York (win)
- 3/30 – at Atlanta (win)
Five of six on the road to begin March is the roughest part of the final third schedule. They actually have to play eight of ten away from home, and if they get through that all right, they’re almost certainly home free.
I think they lose in Cleveland but find a way to win the back-to-back in Charlotte, with or without Embiid. I’d prefer you just rest Joel against the Cavs and go for the win in North Carolina, but who knows what they do. From there, I think they lose two of the next three road games. Again, Charlotte looks like the most likely win there. So I’ve got them at 2-3 to start the month.
After that, the trickiest part is a pair of back-to-backs with NY/Brooklyn and Memphis/Orlando. The Nets and Magic are both horrendous, but I’d rest Embiid in those games, take the losses, and just try to “deliver” him to the playoffs, as Brown mentioned.
*I put this down as a loss, not because I think they will, but because they’ll find a way to lose some game they’ll be favored to win. It could be the Denver home game or one of the Charlotte trips, but I just picked this one for the sake of the exercise.
10-6 in March.
- 4/1 – at Charlotte (win)
- 4/3 – vs. Brooklyn (win)
- 4/4 – at Detroit (loss)
- 4/6 – vs. Cleveland (loss)
- 4/8 vs. Dallas (win)
- 4/10 at Atlanta (win)
- 4/11 vs. Milwaukee (loss)
They should win the first two here and rest Embiid for the back-to-back in Detroit. I think you lose a tough game at home to Cleveland, then beat Dallas and Atlanta before losing at home to Milwaukee while again resting Joel because you’ve already qualified for the postseason. April 10th and 11th might be meaningless, depending on how the seeding looks.
4-3 in April.
That’s 16-11 to finish the season, for a record of 46-36 and the fifth or sixth seed in the east.
Sounds.. way too high, doesn’t it? I looked over everything again thinking I was way off-base, but the reality is that the schedule really does shape up nicely. Think about it; they went 30-25 through the hardest part of the season, so I don’t think this projection is inaccurate at all.
Again, the biggest thing here is just keeping Embiid healthy. Yea, you can play him in those back-to-backs and push for the four seed to get home court against Indiana or Washington, but if Joel enters the postseason banged up, what’s the point? I think you’ve got a better chance of winning a road game with a healthy Embiid, instead of going down the slippery slope of beating him into the ground.