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76ers 2019-20 Schedule: Top Games, Championship Odds and Record Predictions

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistAugust 12, 2019

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid reacts during the final minutes of an NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 94-89. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Say this about the Philadelphia 76ers: They aren't afraid to make a splash. 

One year ago, the Sixers opened the season with a starting lineup of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Robert Covington and Markelle Fultz. But the Sixers and general manager Elton Brand made major moves in an effort to build a contender around Embiid and Simmons, trading for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris.

That team reached the conference semifinals, taking the Toronto Raptors to Game 7 before Kawhi Leonard's bouncing, buzzer-beating shot knocked them out of the postseason. No team gave the eventual champions more issues than the Sixers, and the question coming into this summer would be whether Philly would run it back with that group. 

Not quite. Butler chose the Miami Heat, though he could only get there via a sign-and-trade that netted the Sixers two-way wing Josh Richardson. Then the team signed veteran big man Al Horford, a thorn in Embiid's side in recent years.  

Philadelphia 76ers @sixers

"The possibility of teaming up with him got me really excited." @Al_Horford talks about joining forces with @JoelEmbiid. #HereTheyCome https://t.co/hkF7rnSnFl

Expectations are justifiably sky-high in Philadelphia. Below, we'll take a look at the schedule the Sixers will face as they attempt to meet them.

              

2019-20 Schedule Details

Season Opener: Wednesday, Oct. 23 vs. Boston Celtics

Championship Odds: 8-1 (via Caesars)

Full Schedule: NBA.com

              

Top Matchups

Boston Celtics (First Home Game: Oct. 23)

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 12: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket against Tobias Harris #33 of the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on February 12, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Celtics defeated the 76ers 112
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

One of the NBA's best rivalries in recent memory was only heightened by Horford's decision to sign in Philadelphia this offseason.

In landing Horford, the Sixers not only weakened the Boston Celtics, they also added another big man to soak up the center minutes while Embiid rests. For a team that had a net rating of 20.8 with Joel Embiid on the court during the postseason and a minus-21.6 net rating when he sat, Horford was a huge addition, especially since he's a good enough shooter to also play next to Embiid.

And with the Celtics losing Horford and Kyrie Irving, the Toronto Raptors losing Leonard and the Milwaukee Bucks losing Malcolm Brogdon, the Sixers have a chance to be the class of the Eastern Conference.

Adam Himmelsbach @AdamHimmelsbach

Stevens on Horford: "We loved Al, we wanted him back. Again, it’s his choice. He can go do what he wants to do and there’s a lot of factors that end up helping these guys making those decisions. But he’s a heck of a player and did a great job here in the three years he was here."

But the Celtics won't be pushovers. Irving was replaced by Kemba Walker, who averaged a gaudy 37 points in four games against Philly last season, including a 60-point outburst. Walker and the Charlotte Hornets lost all four of those games, but he'll have a lot more help with the Celtics this year.

Namely, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward will provide the best core group Walker has ever had.

One issue the Celtics may have against the Sixers is matching against Embiid. Gone are Horford and Aron Baynes, two players who were generally solid against the superstar center. Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis are less likely to slow down the big man.

That should be the main factor separating the Sixers and Celtics this year, though this rivalry has been a spirited one in recent seasons. Expect intense, passionate games when these teams meet. 

                             

Milwaukee Bucks (First Home Game: Dec. 25) 

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 04: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks guards Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on April 4, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Bucks defeated the 76ers 128-122. NOTE TO USER: Us
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Bucks and Sixers are the cream of the crop in the East, followed by the Pacers and Celtics. Teams like the Brooklyn Nets (at least until Kevin Durant returns to the fold, potentially in the 2020-21 season), Raptors and Heat, meanwhile, are in the conference's third tier.

That will make the matchups between the Sixers and Bucks—namely when they clash on Christmas—intriguing.

By adding Horford, the Sixers now have in place three players who can at least offer some resistance to 2018-19 MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, alongside Embiid and Simmons. Not many teams have a trio of elite defensive players 6'10" or bigger. 

Simmons has had some issues dealing with Antetokounmpo in the past, but Embiid and Horford can take turns on him, lessening that load on Simmons. Horford has had about as much success as anybody not named Kawhi dealing with Antetokounmpo, while Embiid has the size and athleticism to frustrate him on drives to the hoop. 

That could be a major advantage for the Sixers in the matchup, especially since Philadelphia's supporting cast around Embiid appears to have more upside than Antetokounmpo's.

But the Bucks also won an NBA-best 60 games last year and had the Raptors on the ropes in the Eastern Conference Finals, up 2-0 in the series before letting Game 3 slip away in double-overtime and losing the next three straight.

The Bucks are very, very good. Their battles with the Sixers will be a fascinating look at what is expected to be the Eastern Conference Finals matchup this upcoming season.

                

Prediction

The Sixers aren't without their questions.

Will this be the year Simmons develops some semblance of a jump shot? Who will close games with Butler gone? Will there be enough floor spacing around Simmons and Embiid, especially since JJ Redick took his elite shooting to New Orleans? Can young players like Zhaire Smith and Matisse Thybulle provide quality minutes off the bench?

But the new-look Sixers should be devastating on the defensive end, and a healthy Embiid remains one of the league's most dominant players. The 23-year-old Simmons is only going to get better, even if he isn't a consistent shooter.

Harris will have a bigger role on offense with Butler gone, which should help him find his groove in Philadelphia (something he never quite did a year ago), and the addition of Richardson should solve the team's prior issues dealing with smaller perimeter scorers like Walker. 

John Clark @JClarkNBCS

New Sixer Josh Richardson “Every time we were about to play Philly, we would always be like, ‘It’s about to be a blood bath, so just prepare yourself.’ Defense is where we hang our hats at, we share the ball, and we are playing for a championship. Straight up.” #Sixers https://t.co/cMX58J1mJd

The Sixers have one of the best starting lineups in basketball, star power in Embiid and Simmons, and better depth than they took into the postseason last year. This is a team with title aspirations, and anything less than a trip to the NBA Finals will be deemed a disappointment in Philly.

Record Prediction: 55-27