76ers' Complete Guide, Preview for 2nd Half of 2021 NBA Season
Great things are happening for Joel Embiid, which means great things are happening for the Philadelphia 76ers.
His ascension into the 2020-21 MVP race has coincided with their climb atop the Eastern Conference.
Philly's offseason investment in floor-spacers has given the big fella more room to operate, and he's using every inch of the hardwood to clown his opponents. Tack on the most efficient version of Tobias Harris to date and all the defensive disruption created by Ben Simmons, and the Sixers seem like full-fledged heavyweight contenders.
The marathon has only reached the midpoint, though, so let's shift focus over to the season's second half.
If the 76ers retain pole position in the Eastern Conference, they will have it earned by conquering two tricky stretches of their second-half schedule.
The first is a six-game road trek that takes them through the end of March and into April. While it starts with a bout with the New York Knicks and ends against the Cleveland Cavaliers, a four-game journey out West in the middle will define its success. The good news is that none of the four contests are back-to-back tilts. The not-so-good news is they will come against the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets.
Survive that, and Philly will get a grueling 10-game grind that spans much of April. It starts with road games against the Boston Celtics, New Orleans Pelicans, Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks. Then it's back home to face the Brooklyn Nets, Clippers, Warriors and Phoenix Suns. Finally, they will close out the stretch with a two-game series against the Bucks in Milwaukee.
Get to May in good position, and the Sixers should have a chance to sprint through the finish line. Their nine-game schedule that month includes home games against the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic (twice) and road clashes with the San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets.
State of the Sixers
When Philadelphia flew out to a 16-6 start, it was fair to wonder whether it might be playing a bit over its head. A 5-5 stretch since has probably answered that question.
That doesn't mean this is a .500 club, but a soft schedule to start the season has been replaced with a much trickier one. The Sixers navigated this portion of the campaign well enough.
Saying that, it's still tough to place this team.
The Sixers make the NBA's shortlist of its most talented clubs. Philly will be sending both Embiid and Simmons to the All-Star Game, and Harris was in the conversation. Seth Curry is a flamethrower from distance, Furkan Korkmaz can be on his good nights and you know Danny Green will deliver when it matters. Matisse Thybulle is a dominant defender, and Shake Milton is a spark-plug scorer.
But the Sixers have been loaded with talent before. The question is whether this group can come together when it matters most. The early returns are promising, as the Sixers haven't posted a winning percentage this high since Allen Iverson was running the show. But without a top-10 offense or a top-five defense, their credentials aren't quite what their record suggests.
Options for Trade Season
The Sixers became a team to watch on the trade market as soon as they hired Daryl Morey to be their new president. The savvy executive has a history of leaving no stone unturned in his search for roster upgrades.
An offseason move from the Houston Rockets to Philadelphia hasn't changed that. The Sixers were in the James Harden sweepstakes until the end, and they might have something major brewing between now and the March 25 trade deadline.
"League sources say Philadelphia...is still seeking major moves to increase its championship odds," The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported. "The trade market still needs to take shape in the coming weeks, so realistic targets are unclear. But one name to monitor is Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, a 34-year-old Philadelphia native in the final season of his contract."
Any available perimeter shot-creator will probably wind up in Philadelphia's crosshairs, as O'Connor noted that's perhaps the only major need this team has. The Sixers have the chips to get something major done if they want, and if they can pull off a Lowry-level acquisition, they would get the entire Association's attention.