Are the Philadelphia 76ers sleepers, pretenders or favorites to win the Atlantic Division?
Who took a step back, who went frantic and who stepped forward on the road to winning the Atlantic?
There have been several shakeups in the divisional surf. The Philadelphia 76ers, for example, sail into this season with a new ownership group that includes Philly native Will Smith.
Starting with the game in Portland on the night after Christmas, Philadelphia starts the season with five games on the road. This could prove to be a daunting task, so Philly will need to watch their steps during this odd opening to the season.
After facing the Trail Blazers, the 76ers meet Phoenix, Utah, Golden State and New Orleans. After the road trip, the team open at Wells Fargo Center against Detroit. Toronto, Indiana and Sacramento will then grace the hard court in Philadelphia after the Pistons.
Later on, the Sixers face their biggest game of the early season when Madison Square Garden and the New York Knicks welcome Philadelphia (January 11).
Believe it or not, with the possible decline of the Celtics, the Knicks and 76ers are vying to be powerhouses in the Atlantic. The first matchup between the two upstarts will be interesting for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, the initial Philly-New York game will be Philadelphia’s third in three nights—Philly’s first back-to-back-to-back. Clearly, the Knicks should be the fresher team. The Knicks face Charlotte on January 9, but New York doesn’t suit up for a game on December 10.
Philadelphia and New York will play their second contest exactly two months after the first one. They'll then decide the season series on March 21 at Wells Fargo in a game that could be for the division championship.
Obviously, whether or not the Sixers will be sleepers, pretenders or division powerhouses depends a lot on how they do against the new Knicks.
By signing center Tyson Chandler, New York added what the 76ers sorely lack—athleticism among their bigs.
Unfortunately, excluding Marreese Speights and Elton Brand, there isn’t one alley-ooping, high-flying rebounder or shot-blocking center on the Sixers’ roster. The Knicks, meanwhile, have two in their starting lineup.
Chandler is one of the fastest-sprinting centers in the NBA and Stoudemire is still one of the most athletic big men around. This deadly combination could spell death for the Sixers' hopes of winning the division.
Spencer Hawes could give Philly life, though, and turn into a double-digit rebounder. If he does, then it will be because he blocks out. With Stoudemire, Chandler, Carmello Anthony and company, the Knicks are my favorites to block their competition from the division championship banner.
Philly, by the way, hosts the Celtics twice at Wells Fargo and travel to Boston once. While KG—a former MVP—is getting older, he can probably still out-athlete Hawes and Vucevic.
While there aren’t any MVP candidates on Philly's roster, a plus for the Sixers is having the majority of their roster back. Plus, Philadelphia is spry, hungry and playing under Doug Collins’ system for the second year.
A lot of the Sixers also hooked up during the lockout to practice, parlay and gel in California. Whether sunshine, beaches and buckets aids their focus, familiarity and unselfishness remains to be seen.
Philly should, however, expect to have more chemistry than a lot of their opponents. The 76ers should also expect to play in the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Considering their high-scoring bench, the improved Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and more, I believe they will.
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