The All-star game is almost upon us, which means that the NBA has one big deep breath before the hunt for the playoff begins. For the Sixers, this means there’s a lot of work to be done…but what are their chances of making it into the post-season?
*Current play-off seeding in ( )*
(1) Boston Celtics
The best defensive team in the East, giving up only 98.3 points per game (PPG) and second in point differential, the Celtics sport an effective blend of youth (Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown) and established veteran all-stars (Kyrie Irving, Al Horford). The hard-nosed bench of Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier weighs on opponents hoping for a respite. All of this without the injured Gordon Hayward.
(2) Toronto Raptors
I’m admittedly surprised at how well the Raptors have played. DeMar DeRozan is now playing like a complete shooting guard, attempting and making twice the amount of three’s he averaged previous to 2017-2018. My biggest gripe had been about their bench, but the quintet of CJ Miles, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl and Norman Powell have shown these guys can go ten deep.
(3) Cleveland Cavaliers
Currently, and surprisingly only clinging to the third slot. Second in opponents points per game (OPPG) to only the lowly Orlando Magic, the Cavaliers turn-style defense has led to only three wins since Christmas. They’ve given up a gawdy 127 points or more four times this month and the long-awaited return of Isaiah Thomas won’t help in that department. Don’t forget Tristan Thompson contributing basically nothing – another athlete succumbing to the Kardashian curse. Add to that a teammate or two possibly saying Kevin Love faked an illness to sit out a few games, and things aren’t looking up in the Land.
(4) Miami Heat
Yes. The Miami Heat. Fourth best record in the East. A team most expected to be out of the playoff picture or battling for a seventh or eighth spot at best. They don’t do anything spectacular, and although they are last in the conference at 100.9 PPG, they surprisingly have eight players averaging double figures in scoring. Led by the steady Goran Dragic at point guard and rebounding machine, Hassan Whiteside, the Heat have found themselves in the middle of the playoff pack.
(5) Indiana Pacers
Like the Celtics, but with less star power, the Pacers have a good mix of young and old. Youngsters Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, along with vets Thaddeus Young and Darren Collison, have displayed solid on-court chemistry. In between and in his prime, first-time all-star Victor Oladipo has made this his team. Shooting careers highs of 48% as well as 40% from three point land, Oladipo has given Indiana a go-to player in crunch-time. They are the fifth highest scoring team in the East and second best in not turning the ball over. Things are looking solid for Indy.
(6) Washington Wizards
Let’s call them Cleveland Light. Things just aren’t going as expected. Other than a four game winning streak in early November including three over non-playoff teams, the Wizards have been pretty much win one, lose one, win two, lose two. Two main reasons. Otto Porter is not living up to his newly signed 4 year/ $105 million contract. His scoring average had increased each season after his rookie year, until this new contract. They needed him to step up and he is currently averaging only 13.5 PPG, same as last year. John Wall is under-performing for John Wall. His scoring from last season to this season has dropped from 23 to 19 PPG and his field goal percentage has dipped 35%.
(7) Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers have bounced back from a dreadful December to winning 6 of their first 8 games in January. They still aren’t playing as well as they did in November when everyone on the team was on a roll. Robert Covington has only slightly begun to look like the defensive stalwart and three point sniper they so desperately rely on. Ben Simmons is coming off an outstanding 19-17-14 triple double vs. Chicago, but still appears lackadaisical in fourth quarters, and speaking frankly, has handed some games away. While they average the third most assists in the league, that is offset by averaging the most turnovers by a wide margin. Lucky for them, starting in February, the Sixers have the easiest remaining schedule in the league.
(8) Milwaukee Bucks
It’s all about the Freak! Well, not necessarily. Yes, Giannis Antetokounmpo is filling up the scoresheet as much as anyone, averaging 28-10-5. But now, a healthy Khris Middleton averaging 20-5-4, gives Milwaukee one of the best one-two punches in the league. The main thing holding them back is one of the weaker benches in the NBA. Other than last year’s Rookie of the Year, Malcolm Brogdon, there isn’t much to write home about. Jabari Parker is expected back soon and that will be the injection Milwaukee desperately needs.
(9) Detroit Pistons
The boys from Motor City got off to a hot start, hovering near the top of the Eastern Conference. Soon after looking like they were going to bounce back from a seven game losing streak in early December, point guard Reggie Jackson went down and since they have only won 3 of 13. He isn’t expected back until the end of February and it will probably be too late to save their season. Despite the solid seasons being had by Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley and “should- be” all-star Andre Drummond, they don’t have the scoring punch to overcome the loss of their point guard.
Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports