Through the first 20 days of the NBA’s regular season, injuries and setbacks have already occurred. Some, like Chicago, were injuries we already knew about; they would be without their former MVP, Derrick Rose, for a large portion of the season. Others, like the Los Angeles Lakers, lost their former two-time MVP point guard in the inchoate days before we’d really seen them play as a full, Hall-of-Fame, group. But most of the teams missing their stars have banded together and kept from sliding all the way to the territory of Detroit or Washington. It should be noted, the Wizards are themselves without their top two players, John Wall and Nene, but they’re still winless through eight games this season. They fell apart when their stars went down, but these five other teams have remained tough to beat as they await their convalescing stars.
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5. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
This wasn’t supposed to happen. The Sixers’ deal to acquire mercurial big man, Andrew Bynum, from the Los Angeles Lakers this summer, in return for a draft pick and Andre Iguodala, was finally going to solve the riddle of a team good enough to make the playoffs, but without the necessary offensive force to pose a legitimate threat. However, he hasn’t played a single minute for the Sixers this year with his constant leg battles now extending into both of his knees, and a return date that’s been pushed back now three times.
So far this season though, this Doug Collins-led squad has performed admirably without their seven footer even sniffing the court. While Bynum rehabs and blows out his hysterical perm, the Sixers, led by third-year point guard Jrue Holiday, have managed to stay above .500 through their first 10 games. Their record of 6-4 has them in third place in the tough Atlantic Division, and if you discount their two losses to divisional rival, New York, they’re 6-2 on the year.
They need Bynum if they’re going to be considered legitimate threats in a middle-heavy Eastern Conference with at least four or five teams battling for the last couple playoff spots. Yes, Thaddeus Young has played well and Jason Richardson isn’t the sad sack toss-in to the Bynum deal many believed, but the Sixers need a low-post presence if they’re to have any hope in the East. Spencer Hawes is a nice player, but his 8.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game are nothing compared to Bynum’s projected impact. While Bynum’s right knee is expected to knock him out until at least January, and the recent revelations of bowling, of all things, which might have hurt his left — supposedly healthy — knee, there’s no telling when Bynum will be on the court with his teammates. Even if the Sixers manage to play .500 ball through the holidays and into the new year, there’s no telling how fast Doug Collins can get Bynum into the lineup and playing big minutes. If Bynum fully recovers and the Sixers have enough time to work out their rotation with him playing significant minutes at center, they’ll be a serious threat in the homogeneous Eastern Conference. That’s a lot of ifs and Bynum’s health has been a cause for concern long before this season’s issues. The Sixers are hanging tough, but how much longer can they do so?