In the eight games following the All-Star break, the Philadelphia 76ers posted a 4-4 record. Obviously, that isn’t a disastrous outcome for any NBA team but, considering the massive investment the Sixers made to acquire Tobias Harris before the trade deadline and Jimmy Butler before that, a casual fan may have poked fun at Philadelphia for its sluggishness. Since then, however, the team has reeled off four straight victories, with one noticeable difference: Joel Embiid is back.
The talented big man missed his team’s first eight games after the break but, since Embiid returned, the Sixers are spotless, including a road win in Milwaukee on Sunday that produced all kinds of chatter in NBA circles. For the season, the Sixers are 40-18 when Embiid plays and only 5-7 when he doesn’t. Philly has been legitimately elite when their All-Star center is on the floor, outscoring opponents by 8.0 points per 100 possessions.
When Embiid sits, the pendulum swings to -2.8 points per 100 possessions. In short, the Sixers absolutely need Embiid firing on all cylinders to accomplish their goals but, simply put, Philadelphia is genuinely terrifying when their centerpiece is on the floor and that has to be noted.
Beyond Embiid’s individual brilliance, Philadelphia’s best five-man unit is, at least on paper, quite terrifying for the opposition. The quintet of Embiid, Butler, Harris, Ben Simmons and J.J. Redick has been available for only seven games to this point but, in 116 minutes together, they have outscored opponents by 17.2 (!) points per 100 possessions. It’s a small sample size but, at the same time, the talent on display is befitting of that kind of dominance and, once again, Philadelphia’s appeal should be quite clear in a playoff setting.
A lot can change between now and May when the chips are down but, at the moment, it would be easy to argue that Philadelphia is playing as well as anyone in the Eastern Conference. If you’re trying to find the best lineup that a team can play, it might just be the starters from the Sixers. Where does Philly land in this week’s DIME power rankings, though? Let’s explore.
1. Houston Rockets (44-26, Last week — 1st)
The Rockets finally lost this week but there are worse things than dropping a game to the Warriors by three points. Golden State probably would’ve jumped back into the top spot if they took care of business elsewhere but that didn’t happen, and Houston is still riding a run of 11 wins in 12 games. That feels like a No. 1 profile.
2. San Antonio Spurs (42-29, Last week — 6th)
Nine straight wins for the Spurs! San Antonio has been hot and cold all season but, at the time of this post, they are certainly in a zone. The streak featured wins over the Thunder, Nuggets, Bucks, Blazers and Warriors. We just can’t ignore that.
3. Philadelphia 76ers (45-25, Last week — 7th)
Philly is seven games back of Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference standings and they just haven’t been as good as the Bucks and Raptors over the full season. Still, they look fantastic at the moment and this jump is warranted.
4. Golden State Warriors (47-22, Last week — 3rd)
The Warriors went on the road and beat the Rockets and Thunder in succession, and that’s a reminder of what they can do, even without Kevin Durant. Then, they lost to the scalding hot Spurs and, while there is no shame in that, we couldn’t send Steve Kerr’s team back to the top.
5. Milwaukee Bucks (52-18, Last week — 2nd)
Giannis and company are doing just fine. They’ve won four of the past six and the two losses came to the Spurs (on the road) and Sixers. In the big picture, Milwaukee has been the best team in the league this season but we’re drilling down further and they aren’t playing at quite that level right now.