What can the Sixers do to go from pretenders to contenders?

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Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers reacts to a play during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs in San Antonio, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Post All-Star break, the Philadelphia 76ers have the toughest remaining schedule in the NBA, playing 25 games in 45 Days. The second half of the season has started with the Sixers going 1-2 after an impressive comeback win over the Memphis Grizzlies, then losing two straight, the first to the Boston Celtics in heartbreaking fashion and the second in a frustrating loss to the Heat.

The team currently sits third in the East with a record of 39-21, sitting only four games out of the number one seed. The season has had its ups and downs, from the start of the season when they struggled to be a .500 team to their league-leading eleven-game home win streak.

There is one thing that has proven itself through this season this far, which is that this is the best-constructed Sixers team the city has had in past years, and for the first time in the Joel Embiid era, you can feel the team can contend with any team East or West, which leads to the team having its best chance to win a championship.

Offseason moves to bring in veterans like PJ Tucker and De’Anthony Melton proved to be good to great additions, and we have seen some immediate returns. Looking toward the playoffs, there are two major needs for this team to improve on if the dream of winning a title this season is to come to fruition.

Doc Rivers has to adjust

The Sixers are a well-rounded team this year with a combination of scoring, defending, length, youth, and athleticism. This finally gives head coach Doc Rivers a great group of players to contend with anyone in the NBA; it will be up to Doc how he maximizes each player’s talents and attributes.

Rivers will have a step out of his comfort zone this season if a championship is a goal. He’s known to rely on veteran players, sometimes to a fault. To take a step toward reaching the championship, let alone getting out of its second round of the playoffs, a tweak in his coaching philosophy will have to take place.

Defining roles and lineup rotations are key for Doc this year; who plays, when they play, and who they play with will be a huge part of this, putting players in the best possible position they can be in. Examples are more Maxey minutes with Harden and Embiid if he is not going to start games, starting starters’ minutes with bench players eliminating all bench lineups altogether.

Utilizing the length, youth, and athleticism of Jalen McDaniels more into the offense. These will go a long way as this season progresses and the team sets its sights on the playoffs.

The Sixers still need more firepower

At the trade deadline, the Sixers acquired a 6’10” forward in Jalen McDaniels and also signed center Dewayne Dedmon after he was bought out by the Miami Heat. As stated before, this Sixers team is well-rounded but is one player away from being complete. The Sixers can defend multiple positions with players like De’Anthony Melton and PJ Tucker; they have athletes who can get out and run Maxey and McDaniels, stars in Joel Embiid and James Harden, not to forget Tobias Harris who has been consistent for the team all year.

The one area that always plagued the Sixers is a consistent off-the-bench scorer. Although players like Shake Milton and Furkan have not panned out for the team, there is a solution to this team’s issue. Will Barton is a 6’5″ G/F who has been recently bought out by the Washington Wizards. Barton has not had the season this year where you would warrant adding him to the team, but you also have to consider who he played for.

A change of scenery could do some good in a defined role coming off the bench for the Sixers, giving them the shooter and scoring they need in the Harden or Embiid rest minutes. Too often, the Sixers lose leads and games when their stars are off the floor resting. Will Barton can potentially be that added scoring firepower and fix a recurring issue that plagues the Sixers in past years.