There’s trusting The Process, and there’s thinking that after securing their 10th win against the Broolyn Nets on Sunday that the Sixers can make the playoffs. Sorry, Joel, the city has fallen in love with you, but believing you when you say the Sixers can make the playoffs? That would take a lot of trust. Too much trust to fully… process.
We wrote Sunday that the Sixers win over the Nets was significant for several reasons. First, Brett Brown’s crew got their 10th win in just the 35th game this season. It’s not exactly championship-caliber, but it’s far better than last year’s mark of the, gulp, 78th game. Second, The Sixers have won three of the last four games, so confidence is extremely high in the locker room. And third, and most importantly, Ben Simmons is coming soon. While the rookie hasn’t played in the NBA yet, leaving us with nothing more than hopeful expectations, the guy wasn’t the first overall pick for nothing.
Simmons is going to make the Sixers better, it’s just a matter of how long it takes for him to get into game shape and if he, like Embiid, struggles with turnovers as he learns the pace of the NBA game. Simmons made his mark on his ability to control the floor with pace, power and excellent passing. As a freshman at LSU, he often looked like a man among boys on the court, blowing by defenders with ease. But now, not only is Simmons merely a (young) man among other (older, stronger) men, he’ll have to deal with getting up to speed after missing, what, the first 50 games of the year?
If — if — Simmons came back at full strength today, the Sixers might have a shot to go on a run of eight wins in 10 games to get them right on the cusp of playoff contention. But with this roster how it stands now? We should just be happy at how the Sixers are playing, and take Embiid’s comments for what they are: fun talk and wishful thinking.
Let’s do the math: The Sixers are 10-25, two games ahead of Brooklyn in the win column and one game behind Miami in the East, though by nature of Miami having played four games more than Philly, the Sixers (.286 win percentage) are actually ahead of the Heat (.282) in the standings.
The Sixers magic number should be 41. That’s how many wins they’ll need to finish the season .500. The last time the Sixers were .500 to end the year was 2011-12, when they finished 35-31 in a shortened season. That was also the last time they made the playoffs. In order to get there, though, Embiid and his fellow Process trusters will need to pass more than a few teams ahead of them.
Washington and Milwaukee are tied for the eighth seed in the East right now with identical 18-18 records. The Bulls, after three-straight wins, are 19-18 and just ahead of the Wizards and Bucks in seventh, while the Pistons, with two-straight wins, are 18-21 and just below in 10th.
The Knicks (17-20) and the Magic (16-23) are ahead of them, too. The Sixers play the Knicks on Wednesday at Wells Fargo Center, then host Charlotte (20-18) before traveling to Washington and Milwaukee. The Charlotte and Washington games are on back-to-back nights, so don’t expect Embiid to play in both.
Embiid said the Sixers are about eight games back, and that’s true, but it’s not that simple. Making up eight games in the win column does not mean winning eight games, it means winning eight more games than everyone else in the conference. That won’t be easy, especially this season when as of games played on January 8, there are nine teams at .500 or better in the East.
If the Sixers win the next eight games, they’ll be 18-25. That’s way better than what they are now, sure, but that’s not .500. And every other .500 team isn’t just going to lose those eight games and let the Sixers back into the playoff hunt.
Besides, getting to .500 may not be good enough anyway. Last season, the No. 8 seed finished 44-38 in the East, and the No. 10 seed was .500 at 41-41. The year before that, though, the No. 8 seed was just 38-44, as the power was all out West. The last time before last season the No. 8 seed in the East was above .500 was in 2011-12, when it was the Sixers. That trend seems to have leveled off just in time for the Sixers to get good again. Thanks, LeBron.
Let’s ignore the trends though, and look at just the Sixers chances of getting to .500. Maybe it was just the slow start, as they began the season 0-7. Since they got their first win, they are 10-18. Nope, still not close.
What about this: Since Nerlens Noel came back from his injury rehab, the Sixers have played 12 games and won five. That’s close, but not .500, and Noel didn’t even play in all of those games, getting limited minutes in others.
Since Noel has been back in the rotation, though, the Sixers are 3-2, with one of the two losses coming in the only game Embiid didn’t play in that stretch. There we go, a formula to get over .500! Maybe. (The Sixers also got wins in those three contests over teams with a combined 33 wins. Golden State, for context, has 32 wins.)
Maybe the model is simply beat other bad teams. That’s not simple. The Sixers have 12 games left in January and six are against teams currently above .500, with only three against teams with losing records. If the Sixers finish January at .500, mostly beating the teams with average or worse records and perhaps stealing a game against a contender, that will put them at 16-31 (.340) with 35 games to play. Assuming Simmons comes back by then, the Sixers would need to win 25 of their final 35 games to get to .500.
The Sixers’ final 35 games this year include home-and-away sets against both San Antonio and Golden State, home-and-away games with Boston, and away games with the Clippers, Thunder, Cavs and Raptors. They’d have to win every other game, which includes two against the Pacers, Bucks, Bulls and a few other teams with better records than the Sixers right now.
The excitement is palpable around this team, and the fact their best player is telling media and fans he thinks they can make the playoffs is awesome. The Sixers could win 10 of their next 12 and get to 20-27 by February, then go on a major run when Simmons gets into game shape and finish with 35 or maybe even 40 wins. But getting to the playoffs will be hard. Not impossible, but almost.