Predicting Disney: Philadelphia 76ers
The 2019-20 NBA season was pretty wild before it was shut down by COVID-19. Now it's likely to be absolute mayhem, which could play right into the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Before the season was suspended, the Sixers weren't exactly setting the world on fire. Expected to compete with the elites of the league after acquiring Al Horford and Josh Richardson, Philly finds itself at just 39-26, 6th in the East.
There were a few things working against the Sixers. Their original starting five of Ben Simmons, Richardson, Tobias Harris, Horford and Joel Embiid only played 244 minutes together. Of all the top contenders in either conference, only the Los Angeles Clippers' most used lineup had logged less time.
This happened because Embiid missed 21 games, Simmons missed 11, and Richardson missed 16. There were only 19 games where the Sixers had their entire starting five.
This hiatus gives the Sixers a do-over. They were adamant about their strengths playing up in the postseason, which is a reasonable thing to be confident about, especially in a setting like the Orlando bubble. That confidence turned to arrogance at points though; they could beat the Milwaukee Bucks, but also fall victim to the Atlanta Hawks in the same week.
They won't have too many chances to be lazy this time around. Like everyone else in the bubble, the Sixers have eight tune-up games before the playoffs start. They should use these games to get into the 4/5 matchup, and also to figure out the best rotations for the postseason.
Without further ado, here are some predictions on how the Sixers will do with their eight-game slate.
August 1st vs. Indiana Pacers: W
The Indiana Pacers will be without Victor Oladipo in Orlando, putting a significant dent in their playoff hopes. The Sixers should be able to take care of this matchup with ease, especially since the Horford-Embiid duo actually makes sense against Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner.
August 3rd vs. San Antonio Spurs: W
San Antonio will also be without its best player in LaMarcus Aldridge. This should open the floodgates for Embiid to have a monster game down low, opening up the rest of the offense in the process. DeMar DeRozan is apt in the mid-range though, an area the Sixers frequently concede open shots in, so there's potential for a 50-piece from him.
August 5th vs. Washington Wizards: W
As devoid of talent as the Wizards are, there's a real chance the Sixers lay an egg. But an offense-heavy team will be without its two best shooters in Orlando; not a great combination. Horford and Harris could lay absolute stinkers and there's still a good chance Philly comes out on top.
August 7th vs. Orlando Magic: L
Home court advantage plays into Orlando's hands here, but so do actual results. The Sixers have lost both meetings with the Magic this season, and it's likely they do so again in the bubble. Neither team has great shooting, but Orlando matches up well against Philly's strengths.
August 9th vs. Portland Trail Blazers: W
Embiid probably has this game circled, as his best bud Hassan Whiteside will be waiting on the other side. The Cameroonian has gotten the best of Whiteside on several occasions, and has a solid chance to do so on this night too. The Blazers don't have much firepower after Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, nor do they have much defense in general.
August 11th vs. Phoenix Suns: W
The Suns will likely be out of playoff contention by this point, meaning there's absolutely no reason to play the veterans. The rest of Phoenix's youngsters will be raring to go, but they won't be enough to stop Embiid or Simmons, even on a bad day.
August 12th vs. Toronto Raptors: L
Despite losing their best player to free agency, the Raptors are on pace for just as many wins as last season. Philly will be hesitant to show any cards to a potential future playoff opponent, and considering how low its lows can get, the bet is that they have a bad outing in their penultimate regular season game.
August 14th vs. Houston Rockets: W
A clash of styles will take place on the last day of the regular season, as the super small Rockets take on the bully ball Sixers. And it's likely that both will still have something to play for, considering how tight the middle class is in each conference. The bet here is that either Embiid, Simmons or Horford has a huge matchup advantage, and that James Harden is managed by Richardson or Simmons.
Final record: 45-28