Philadelphia 76ers: Reasons to Hate on Sixers Strength of Schedule Running Low

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Philadelphia 76ers: Reasons to Hate on Sixers Strength of Schedule Running Low
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Don't worry, Andre. You're not on the only team in the league stuck playing a crappy schedule. (Though you are the only one constantly reminded of it.)

Detractors are running out of ammo to level the Sixers with.

To date, the 76ers' slate is tied for the fifth-easiest in the sport (Thank you, Wizards. Sorry, Flip Saunders.).

That means Philadelphia's opponents (once, twice, five times the Wizards) have scraped together a mere .457 winning percentage in 2011.

But check out the cakewalk company they keep:

Boston (No. 2, opp win pct of .444), New York (No. 3, and .445), Orlando (T-No. 5, and .457) and Chicago (No. 7, and .475) have all been cleaning up the bottom of the NBA barrel en route to boast-worthy records. 

Not so much the Celtics (6-9) and Knicks (6-10), Philly's mesmerizingly-mediocre Atlantic Division rivals.

But very much true for the Magic (11-4) and Bulls (15-3), the latter of which was worth a No. 1 rank on John Hollinger's most recent Power Rankings, a slot the Sixers held (to the disbelief of many) for the two weeks before Monday.

I'll give you this: The Bulls have playoff pedigree. Can't really say the jury's still out on a Derrick Rose-led team with a Tom Thibodeau defense and front court of Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah.

Though who knows what to make of the Magic and "I Might Be Traded, But I Might Not" Howard.

Will the Sixers make it out of the first round of the 2011-12 playoffs?

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(No? Not feelin' the "Dwight" and "might" rhyme there? Oh...)

Still, you can't definitively say the Sixers might not pan out to four through six seed material by season's end (Which, if you're counting, is coming up pretty quick.).

The worst you can say? Inconclusive.

I can't stress this enough: The Sixers' test is time stamped Jan. 30 through Feb. 10, when they'll face the Bulls, Lakers, Spurs and Clippers for the first time this season, and rematches against Miami (presumably with Dwyane Wade) and Atlanta (maybe without Spencer Hawes).

If you think numbers are icky, your stomach will turn at what those opponents' 68-33 mark (.673 win percentage) means for a team looking to shake the label of a hollow win hoarder.

Even so, it's worth noting how the Sixers have stepped up in Hawes' stead (He's been scratched from every game since the team's Jan. 16 rout of the Bucks with Achilles and back injuries.).

They're 2-2 without him, which easily could've been 3-1, if not for Andre Freaking Miller (No, they weren't beating the Heat in South Beach.).

With Hawes, they're 10-3.

In Hawes' stead, the team's gotten uber help from international wunderkid Nikola Vucevic (12.3 points, 11.6 rebounds, 1.6 blocks per 36 minutes), hopefully the first sprinkle of a long-lived dusting of first-round magic from Rod Thorn. He's had 21 points and 16 boards in his last two, not too shabby numbers under the circumstances.

Who's injury are you more concerned about?

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Last night, with both Hawes and Vucevic (quad/knee) out, Lavoy Allen chipped in with 10 points and six boards in just his second bit of burn this season. Allen, a Temple guy, went No. 50 overall (20th pick in second round) this past April.

The past few paragraphs translated: While this effectively pulls the rug out on Sixer haters (or at least  stuffs in that salty Haterade bottle some of the league's best teams), it does the same for those who'll be reaching for the "But We Didn't Have A Big!" card if the team stumbles into February.

Put up or shut up time is imminent.

Matt Hammond is a producer for 97.3 ESPN Radio Atlantic City, and writes for 973ESPN.com. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattHammond973.

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