The Philadelphia 76ers have looked like an entirely different team since the calendar switched from 2016 to 2017. In the team’s thirteen games this month, they’re 9-4 with a chance to improve that record with the Sixers two remaining games in January. Philly is one of only six teams in the NBA with at least nine wins since the beginning of the month and removing the Sixers, they have a combined record of 153-83, a win percentage of .648. The team’s nine wins are only one short of the team’s total for all of last season. The last time Philadelphia won at least this many games in a single month was in 2012 when they started off the season 10-6. While the success is exhilarating for a city that has endured so much, the questions are what changed and is it sustainable?
Philadelphia has been playing solid defense and it has propelled them forward. Throughout the season, Philly has given up an average of 105.4 points per game. But during January, that number is lowered to 102.5 points a game. More impressively though, in the nine games Joel Embiid has played in January, the Sixers are only giving up 99.5 points a game. Currently there are only three teams in the NBA that are giving up less than 100 points a game.
Joel Embiid has been the most exciting basketball player in the city of brotherly love since Allen Iverson. Going into the season the expectations were unclear, but what is crystal clear, is that he exceeded anything fans could’ve expected. It took AI four seasons to be elected into an All-Star game, and in comparison, Embiid would’ve been a starter had a rule change not occurred. Barring a travesty, the Cameroonian big man will be an all-star way before his fourth season on the court.
With an All-Star bid in sight, Embiid stepped up his game in the month of January. In the nine games Embiid played this month, he’s averaging 23.4 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.6 blocks in just 26.7 minutes. His per 36 stat line for the month is 31.5 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 3.5 blocks.
The only downside of Embiid’s play this month has been the injury on January 20th. Whenever he falls to the ground, the entire city becomes so quiet people can hear a soft pretzel fall. His current knee problem seems fairly minor as long as he doesn’t re-injure it. The organization’s priority has always been Embiid’s long-term health and that has become even more critical. He’s missed four games this month and will miss at least one more.
The Sixers roster is learning how to play together and it’s making the whole team better. Since Sergio Rodriguez and Jerryd Bayless got injured, T.J. McConnell has gotten more minutes. While playing eight more minutes a night this month, he’s a averaging 8 points and 9 assists a game. Ersan Ilyasova, Robert Covington, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Nerlens Noel, and Dario Saric have all increased their scoring this month.
Philadelphia’s recent success is nothing short of a miracle. They had eight wins in November and December, while exceeding that combined total in January. If they’re able to sustain this, they could potentially make a run at the eight seed in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers are 4.5 games back from the Charlotte Hornets. Milwaukee, Detroit, and New York all sit between Philly and Charlotte in the standings. The Sixers are 5-1 in games against those teams this season (4-0 against these teams this month). The playoffs are likely a long shot but crazier things have happened.
Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports