The Sixers beat the Brooklyn Nets Sunday, 105-95, in a relatively meaningless regular season game for both teams. Except it absolutely wasn’t meaningless — not for two teams fighting to stay out of last place in the Eastern conference. (Note: those still in tanking mode might say the game was better for the loser, but we’ve changed our tone in Philly this year. At least until we get closer to the NBA Draft.)
Joel Embiid and Dario Saric led the Sixers on Sunday, as Embiid dropped 20 points with five rebounds and four assists and Saric came off the bench with 18 points and five boards, including 3-for-6 from beyond the arc. Nik Stauskas was, again, an insane plus-22 in the game, his third game in the last four with a double-digit plus minus rating.
The victory for the Sixers is, indeed, significant. Not only does the W put Phily two games ahead of Brooklyn in the Atlantic division, but the Sixers are only one win behind the Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves, making them not only not the worst team in the NBA, but almost the fifth worst team in the NBA. Progress!
Jokes aside, there is progress. While Joel Embiid has been getting “Trust the Process” chants in opposing buildings — loud in both Boston and Brooklyn this weekend — The Process is beginning to take shape on the basketball court. Ten wins in 35 games isn’t great, but it’s better.
Last season, the Sixers finished with just 10 wins, notching their 10th on April 5, 2016, their 78th game of the season. In the 2014-15 campaign, the Sixers won their 10th game on January 30, the 47th game of the season. They won 18 games that year.
The first full season Sam Hinkie was in charge of dismantling the roster in hopes of tanking for the future, the Sixers actually won their 10th game sooner than they did this season, getting to double-digit victories on January 4, 2014, in game 33 of the season. That Sixers team managed just nine more wins all year.
Something suggests this year’s team will finish with more.
It wasn’t always like this, remember, While the Sixers got their 10th win this year in the 35th game, they managed win No. 10 in just the 16th game of the 2012-13 season. Those Sixers had some hope, a year after making the playoffs, but they lost eight of their next 10 and 16 of their next 21 to go in the tank. Not literally, of course, that started the following season, but Doug Collins’ final season in Philly ended 34-48, when Collins officially quit on the team he had ostensibly given up on weeks before.
To Brett Brown’s credit, no matter how few and far between the wins have come, he hasn’t quit on his team.
The last time the Sixers made the playoffs — which, let’s be clear, they probably won’t this year — they won their 10th game on January 16th. Of course, that season didn’t start until Christmas because of a labor dispute, but still, the Sixers managed 35 wins in 66 games that year. On talent, this team is better than that team, especially when Ben Simmons returns from injury. There are just 47 games left in this current season, and there’s a decent chance Brown’s team can go on a run at some point to finish that stretch with 25.
More likely, the Sixers will finish the season, not the final 47 games, with 25 wins. But even that mark will show the type of progress the team promised at the beginning of the season.
On September 20, the Sixers were tabbed by Vegas insiders to have 27.5 wins — note: half wins are so no bets end up a push — and that was 10 days before Simmons went down with a broken bone in his foot. To see the Simmons-less Sixers at 10 wins in 35 games, on pace for 23.5 wins makes sense. And yet, Nerlens Noel is back in good graces with Brown, Embiid is only getting better, and his minutes are getting longer, and the rest of the roster is starting to figure out how to play with a budding star who is probably going to start the All-Star game and is destined to win Rookie of the Year this season.
In other words, everyone is actually beginning to trust the process. Other than, perhaps, Jahilil Okafor, who was benched for the second-straight game after he was getting far too many minutes for his production while Noel sat. Now, it’s Okafor who is sitting and Noel getting meaningful minutes, which makes fans happy, Noel happy, Embiid happy and the rest of the team excited for winning basketball. The Sixers have 10 wins. Most importantly, they’ve won three of their last four games, heading into another winnable contest with the Knicks. The goal of becoming the fifth-worst team in the NBA is real.