Just a couple of seasons ago I would have never thought I would be drafting the headline of this article. Philadelphia was in the midst of a long and dark winter, and it seemed that every player they drafted immediately sustained a season-ending injury dashing their rebuilding hopes for yet another year.
But, Philly fans are die-hard. They knew it was only a matter of time before things turned around. They truly embodied their catchphrase, “Trust the Process,” and today they sit at 4th place in the Eastern Conference Standings.
The 76ers haven’t seen the playoffs since the 2011-2012 season where they made it to the second round before losing to the Celtics in 7 games. In the years to follow it was obvious that the organization was tanking in order to secure top draft picks, and they were successful with that plan for several years in a row. Acquiring top level talent like Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz has allowed Philly to build a strong young core over the years, and now that (most) everyone is healthy they’re finally coming to claim their spot in the East.
Philadelphia has won 7 out of their last 10 games, and they’re currently on a 5 game winning streak as they prepare to host the Minnesota Timberwolves. They’re a full game ahead of the Indiana Pacers and a couple of games behind the Cavaliers with 11 games left to play in the regular season. If today’s standings made up this year’s playoff bracket the 76ers would take on the Pacers in the first round. The two teams faced each other a total of three times in the regular season resulting in Indiana taking the “W” in 2 of the 3 contests. Indiana is 6-4 in the last 10 games, and they take on the Warriors twice in their final 10 games of the regular season. A Philadelphia/Indiana post-season match-up would be one to see.
Philly’s success has grown by leaps and bounds this season with a healthy Embiid, and Simmons on the roster. Simmons’ aggressive presence has seemed to bring all the ingredients together for the 76ers organization allowing Embiid to sky rocket to the All-Star level. As a team, the 76ers have improved their shooting percentages substantially from what they were just a few short months ago. In December they were shooting at 34.4% from distance, and in March they increased that number by nearly 6% shooting 40.1% from 3. Their shot percentage from the field has improved roughly 2%, and they’ve also increased their averages in assists, and rebounding while shaving off around 2 turnovers per game.
In the last 10 games, Embiid is averaging around 21.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Any time your star is averaging a double-double heading into the postseason, things are looking good. Simmons has also carried his weight bringing in 12.1 points, 11 assists, and 8.8 rebounds at 56% from the field in the last ten games.
Whether or not Philly will make the playoffs this season seems to be a foregone conclusion. The question now is how far they’ll go. If they do make it past Indiana, and manage to tackle the second round, they’ll eventually have to take on either the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics or Cleveland Cavaliers. Against Toronto, Philadelphia lost 4 of the 6 games in that series, and against Cleveland they’ve lost 3 out of 4 with one more to go on April 6th. The real challenge is if they have to meet the Celtics. The 76ers only won 1 of the 6 games they played against Boston this year, and from what I can tell that game was a bit of a fluke.
I don’t think it’s Philly’s year to make an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, but I can’t count them out of a Semi-Finals spot with the way they’ve been playing as of late. Things are finally starting to gel for the organization, and their success has sustained for long enough to be considered consistent.
I knew Embiid would be a household NBA name, but I also expect Simmons to be a star on his own in this league. In the era of super team recruiting, the 76ers have worked to build their own stars, and I have to respect the hard work and dedication they’ve put into growing their brand in the face of criticism from doubters.
Who knows, maybe next season the 76ers will be the team dominating the landscape in the East, and just maybe one day they will make a play at raging against the Western Conference winning machines. I would wish them luck, but it’s obvious that their hard work makes luck unnecessary.