The Sixers beat the Knicks on Sunday.
Did that excite you? No, because the Knicks are pretty bad. The 4th-place Sixers are supposed to beat the 14th-place Knicks both home and away.
Brett Brown’s squad lost to the Hawks on Friday night. Did that excite you? No, of course not, because they lost.
Here’s the exercise:
Try to think of the last Sixers game that excited you. When’s the last time they had a good win? A confidence-building win? At Clippers? At Jazz? It’s probably one of those two games. They did a nice job on that west coast road trip after the Christmas night disappointment, but when you look over the rest of the recent slate you see expected wins against crappy teams with a couple of bad losses sprinkled in.
The point of the exercise is to display how laborious or lugubrious this Sixers season has been. Maybe joyless is a better word, because it seems like fans haven’t found a ton of macro-level pleasure in this campaign. Those micro-level victories don’t mean too much because you’re sitting there thinking, “yeah… but they’re still not good enough to beat the Celtics, right?”
With that in mind, I’d categorize the Sixers’ possible game outcomes in about six different ways, only one of which provides any sort of true enjoyment:
- When they blow out a cupcake, they’re supposed to blow out said cupcake, so the win is ‘meh’.
- When they lose to a cupcake, it’s a horrendous loss.
- When they win despite blowing a double-digit lead, everybody talks about the blown lead instead of the win.
- When they beat a team playing on the second night of a back-to-back or suffering from multiple injuries, that victory comes with an asterisk (think Toronto without Kawhi Leonard, Jonas Valanciunas, and Serge Ibaka)
- When you lose to a better team, the Sixers obviously “aren’t yet good enough”
- When they beat a good team, it’s a solid win
One feel-good outcome there. Just one.
That’s reality when expectations are raised, which trims the margin for things that fans actually truly appreciate. Beating a bunch of awful teams was fun in 2018, but it’s not good enough in 2019. When you beat Cleveland and Atlanta at home, nobody really cares. When you lose to Cleveland and Atlanta at home, it’s time to trade everyone and fire Brett Brown.
To scenario #6, Indiana on the road was probably the best victory of the season. Then probably at Clips and at Jazz.
What else after that? There’s isn’t much.
The Sixers have failed most of the tests they’ve been presented with this year. They lost in Toronto twice, Boston twice, and Milwaukee once. There really have not been any moments this season where you can say, “yeah, the Sixers are taking that next step,” and that’s strange to admit when you think about the fact that they’re 28-16 and 4.5 games out of first place. They were 20-20 at this point last season, so you’d think people would be happy, right? It doesn’t seem that way.
Sixers’ Twitter is rife with contentious Jimmy Butler, Brett Brown, and Ben Simmons talk. Trade Butler, trade Simmons, can Brown, etc. “Joel Embiid spends too much time on the perimeter” and whatnot. Again, there’s a very burdensome feeling about this whole thing, the idea that the Sixers now have their three superstars but are still trying to figure out if they’ve got a BMW 5-Series or a bunch of square automotive parts for round holes.
You know me; I’m in the “let’s wait and see what happens” camp. Measured takes for measured people. Butler has been here for about two months now and they’ve rolled some bad teams while coming up short against others. He’s hit some game-winning shots and showed flashes here and there.
Can you really figure it all out in eight weeks?
Probably not, but mid-season trades mean you’re jumping feet-first into the fire and taking a risk. To that end, I love the portion of the Sixers’ schedule that begins after Tuesday’s home game against the Thibs-less Timberwolves:
Murderer’s row, but I love it for two reasons:
- I’m just as bored as you are with these games against shitty Eastern Conference squads like the Knicks, Wizards, and Hawks. I’m thrilled to be going down to the Wells Fargo Center for seven straight against OKC, Houston, San Antonio, Toronto, Denver, LA, and Boston.
- We’re gonna learn whether or not this team really has “it.”
I think we’re looking at a stretch of games that’s really going to define this team for seasons to come. That might sound extreme, but I’m super serious. It’s a make or break moment for this year and probably determines how Elton Brand decides to proceed right now and in the future.
This is ten of 12 on national television, ten games where the entire country will be able to see what we’re seeing. Ten games of trying to get the most out of Jimmy in an effort to make the pieces fit. If you’re in the “trade Butler” or “trade Ben” camp, keep in mind that the NBA deadline is February 7th, so you have to decide whether you’re going to be buyers or sellers after the home game against the Raptors.
When you total up these 12 games, the Sixers are playing 10 teams with a combined record of 316 wins and 199 losses. The Kings are the only club on that slate that is not currently in playoff position. There is star power and depth across the board. The Eagles are done, the Flyers blow, and Phillies aren’t playing, so your team, your town, your 76ers take center stage, whether they want to or not.
We’re gonna find out if this team is for real or if it might be time to change course.
No more cupcakes.