There’s a lot of doom and gloom around the Sixers right now, and rightfully so.

Ben Simmons is injured. Joel Embiid is injured. Josh Richardson is injured. The remaining squad is playing tough but just doesn’t have the defensive ability to compete, which resulted in only one win from the recent four-game road trip. They’re now 38-26, 6th place in the Eastern Conference, with a 28-2 home record and 10-24 road record. The disparity really is something else.

For the Sixers to hit the 50-win mark for the third straight year, they’d have to go 12-6 over the final 18 games, which is actually very doable. That’s reason number one to be cautiously optimistic as we try to land this plane for the playoffs:

1. They have an easy remaining schedule

The schedule is very kind to the Sixers in March and April. They’ll play 11 home games and seven road games in a slate that looks like this:

  • vs Detroit
  • vs Indy
  • vs Washington
  • vs Toronto
  • at Charlotte (back to back)
  • vs Atlanta
  • at Minnesota
  • at Chicago
  • vs Phoenix (back to back)
  • vs Portland
  • vs Houston
  • at Washington
  • vs Orlando
  • vs Milwaukee
  • at San Antonio
  • at New Orleans (back to back)
  • at Memphis
  • vs Charlotte

Only six playoff teams on the schedule.

There are three back to backs in there, the tricky part coming with that Spurs/Pelicans April weekend. But by that point they’ll have played eight winnable home games, and should be somewhere in the mid to high 40s in total wins.

2. They’re built for the postseason

We all know that more defense is played in the postseason, and that’s what separates the Sixers from other teams in the east. There’s another gear that you’ve seen pop up in the fourth quarter of games, led primarily by Ben Simmons on the perimeter.

Last year, the Sixers had a 109 defensive rating in the regular season. That increased to 106 in the postseason as Philly held Toronto to their lowest offensive output of any series en route to winning a ring. Similarly, the Sixers had a defensive rating of 105 in the 2018 playoffs, which was third-best among all 16 teams. They weren’t getting booted from the postseason because of defensive issues, it was more about late-game offensive possessions that ultimately let them down.

If you’re looking at the full starting lineup on the floor, there really isn’t a huntable guy out there. We’re no longer looking at a JJ Redick or Marco Belinelli situation, where opponents would seek those guys out and try to force switches. You’re talking about a backcourt of Simmons and Josh Richardson, with any closing combo of Tobias Harris, Embiid, Al Horford, and/or Matisse Thybulle on the floor. There’s not a lot of poking and prodding there in a tight, half-court playoff situation.

If they crash and burn again in the playoffs this year, it won’t be because of defense, or size, or length. It’ll be because of shooting and half court offensive limitations.

3. A first-round playoff matchup with the Celtics isn’t the worst thing in the world

Seems crazy to type that considering the history of these squads over the years, but the Sixers won the Boston regular season series 3-1 this year.

They match up better with the Celtics this time around on the strength of Philly’s size and interior presence, which is a fancy way to say that Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter aren’t on the same level as a healthy Joel Embiid. If you go back to the Boston game the Sixers lost this year, Embiid shot 1-11, but even then Ben Simmons went 9-14 for 23 points. It’s not the same “Brad Stevens builds a foul line wall and frustrates Ben Simmons” situation we saw in years prior.

They also beat Boston without Embiid, holding the Celtics under 100 points with Al Horford and Josh Richardson combining for 46 points. Jayson Tatum has scored 25, 15, 15, and 21 in the four games against Philly this year, which averages out to 19 points, about 4.5 points below his season average. Kemba Walker is about one point better than his average, which is no problem at all.

Bottom line, I think you’d probably prefer a 3/6 series with Boston this year vs. going out to play Miami or Toronto in the first round. It’s a better matchup for Embiid and the Sixers have enough perimeter defense this year to handle their outside shooting.

4. Shake Milton is a playoff rotation piece

Shake should be the backup ball handler in the playoffs.

In prior years, the Sixers really didn’t have what they needed in this department, which resulted in Jimmy Butler handling the duty last year and T.J. McConnell coming in and out of the lineup against Boston and Miami in 2018.

You can put together a first round rotation that looks something like this:

  1. Ben Simmons –> Shake Milton
  2. Josh Richardson –> Alec Burks
  3. Glenn Robinson III –> Furkan Korkmaz/Matisse Thybulle (whomever wins this competition)
  4. Tobias Harris –> Mike Scott
  5. Joel Embiid –> Al Horford

That would be ten guys, which Brett will certainly trim. He usually plays 9-10 guys in the first round and then shrinks it from there. I wouldn’t even be surprised to see Horford come back into the starting lineup, Harris gets bumped back to small forward, and then Josh Richardson is staggered to keep Korkmaz (not a good enough defender) and/or Thybulle (still raw) off the floor.

Like this:

  1. Ben Simmons –> Shake Milton
  2. Josh Richardson –> Alec Burks
  3. Tobias Harris –> GR3
  4. Al Horford –> Harris/stagger
  5. Joel Embiid –> Horford

Eight guys. If you need to play small ball you then have options of staggering Simmons or Mike Scott as a five. Something like that.

5. Embiid, Simmons, and Richardson will get healthy

Goes without saying. Embiid and Richardson should be fine, while Ben’s back is a little more tricky. But if they even  get two of these guys to return during the regular season, they really are primed to go on another 2018-esque winning streak to carry some momentum into the playoffs.

6. They’re the NBA’s best home team

Only two teams have beaten the Sixers at home this year, and one plays in the west. Assuming they can carry that form into the playoffs and hold serve, they’d only need beat the Celtics, Heat, or Raptors once on the road to win a series.

It’s a huge ‘if,’ but I think the Sixers’ defense can translate to a road win. We saw what happened in game two against Toronto last year, and they put themselves in a great position to win that series even without home court advantage.

7. They beat everybody else in the east, plus the top five in the west

They beat Milwaukee on Christmas Day.

They hammered Miami in November.

They took out Toronto in December.

They won against Indy, Boston, and the dregs of the east competing for the 7th and 8th seed.

It doesn’t sound super impressive on paper, but we’re a far cry from two years ago, when beating Boston and Toronto seemed like a monumental and unattainable task. They’ve beaten everybody above them in the east, plus wins against the Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets, Jazz, and Thunder, which currently comprises the top five in the west.

Can they steal just one on the road? It’s all they need.

8. Turnovers are down

Believe it or not, the Sixers are 10th-best in the NBA with only 14.2 turnovers per game.

A big part of that is because Simmons and Embiid aren’t out there coughing it up… right?

Actually no.

If you go back to January/February for instance, before they both got hurt, the Sixers got that seasonal number down to 12.8, which is so much better than it’s been over the past two years. They’ve really improved in this area this season, and if they can protect the ball down the stretch they will out-volume teams in the total FGA department, which is how they’ve won most of their games this season.

9. It can’t get any worse

There’s only one direction to go from here.

Seriously, if you’re going into the playoffs with low expectations, then you might actually enjoy the team a little bit more. I know this season has been brutally disappointing, but it’s an excuse for these guys to come and play the underdog role, feel slightly disrespected, and go out and prove that they actually do have the talent to make a run. They are likely going to be playing for Brett Brown’s job.

That’s the glass half full take. We’re trying to be positive here.