With James Harden debuting with the Sixers, he and Embiid have led the team to two consecutive wins as the season becomes a sprint to the finish. The Philadelphia 76ers are 37-23 and are currently the third seed in the Eastern Conference with 22 games left in the season. They are 1 game behind the second-seeded Chicago Bulls and 3 games behind the first-place Miami Heat.
With the schedule ramping up, the Sixers’ next five games are very important to where they end up in the standings and who their potential opponent could be in the first round of the playoffs. Starting Wednesday, the Sixers’ next five games are at home versus the New York Knicks (25-36) and Cleveland Cavaliers (36-25). The team then travels to South Beach to face the Miami Heat (41-21) on the second night of a back-to-back. Philly returns home for games against the Chicago Bulls (39-23) and Brooklyn Nets (32-30).
Each matchup presents its own challenges and should be a test for this current version of the 76ers’ roster. The Sixers were able to get wins against the Cavs, Heat, Bulls, and Nets prior to the arrival of James Harden, so one would believe they should be able to be competitive with him on the floor.
The Knicks shouldn’t be overlooked even if the Sixers defeated them on the road a few days before their Wednesday night matchup. The Knicks play hard and will look to suffocate the Sixers on defense. The Cleveland Cavs are a young and fun squad to watch, but they just seem to lack the veteran presence needed to win against some of the tougher squads in the Eastern Conference. If Darius Garland plays in this game, you can expect him to make a major impact on the court to try to lead the upstart Cavs to a victory.
Miami and Philadelphia have split the season series thus far, and you can expect this game to be an intense game. To add more of a challenge, the Sixers will have to travel to Miami to play in a back-to-back. Jimmy Butler and the Heat will be waiting to match up their vaunted defense against this new look Sixers squad. The Sixers will face the Bulls at home but already have the tiebreaker by leading the season series (3-0). DeMar DeRozan and Zach Lavine will come out fired up looking to make a statement against the Sixers, who just seem to have their number this year. The Bulls are also 4-10 against the top six teams in the Eastern Conference and will use that as motivation with the playoffs approaching.
The matchup with the Brooklyn Nets seemed to be shaping up as the Ben Simmons return game, but now with Simmons having back issues, there is a high probability that he won’t play. With that being said, this matchup will still have some juice and be important for both squads. With all the Harden drama, the Nets will most likely have some motivation with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving suiting up. The Sixers will be looking to make a statement as well that they got the best of the Nets in the blockbuster trade.
One of the most important things about this stretch of five games is that the Sixers need to protect their home court. The Sixers are playing 4 of the next 5 at home at the Wells Fargo Center. After being one of the best home teams of the last few years, there has been a drop-off. They are 16-13 at home, and with the new injection of energy into the team and the city, the fans will be behind the team, hoping to assist them in improving their record at home.