It’s been a weird year for the Philadelphia 76ers.
On the positive side, there is little to no doubt that the organization has two stellar building blocks with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The duo hasn’t “proven anything” when it comes to winning just yet, but both youngsters brings immense upside to the table and, for better or worse, NBA teams must have multiple top-end talents in order to make real noise in the postseason. Beyond the headliners, Philly has uncovered a perfect 3-and-D glue guy in Robert Covington (now locked up on a bargain contract) and the signing of J.J. Redick looks to be prescient when it comes to adding a dynamic that the Sixers desperately needed.
Not everything has gone well, though, and the continued (and mysterious) absence of Markelle Fultz reflects that. The No. 1 overall pick made four early appearances before being put on the shelf with his strange shoulder injury and, without him, some of the warts in Philadelphia’s rotation have been magnified. Of course, expectations for what a rookie (especially at point guard) is supposed to be right away vary wildly but, at the very least, drafting a player at No. 1 is supposed to remove any doubt at a position moving forward and, in short, that hasn’t happened yet.
From a team performance perspective, outcomes have varied in a sharp way as well, further sending things into chaos. The Sixers were one of the positive stories of the league in the early going, posting a 13-9 record on the way to real buzz from a national perspective. From there, though, Philadelphia fell apart, slipping to a 2-10 record over a four-week stretch that left real doubt about the team’s present viability as a playoff contender.
Seemingly on cue, the Sixers have awakened from that slumber to the tune of a four-game winning streak. For the season, Brett Brown’s club is 17-12 when Joel Embiid suits up and, in going deeper, the Sixers are something of a juggernaut with the talented big man on the floor, outscoring opponents by 10.1 points per 100 possessions. There is nothing inherently “new” about a team performing well with its star on the floor but, in Philadelphia, the gap is significant and that point was driven home once again this week as the streak flipped toward the positive.
Embiid and company will be moving to London this week as the Sixers take on the Boston Celtics in a nationally televised broadcast and, in advance of that, the hype will almost certainly churn. Which Sixers team is “real” remains up for debate but, at the moment, the good version is appearing and that is terrifying for the East.
Where are the Sixers this week in our Dime Power Rankings? Let’s explore.
1. Golden State Warriors (33-8, Last week — 1st)
Five straight wins and the Warriors are still the Warriors. It helps that Stephen Curry is back to super-human mode and, well, there isn’t much of a debate here.
2. Boston Celtics (33-10, Last week — 3rd)
As noted above, Boston’s next contest is against Philadelphia in London and that should be fun. In the meantime, the Celtics are riding a six-game winning streak that featured victories over the Cavs, Wolves and Rockets. Everything is just fine for Kyrie and company.
3. Toronto Raptors (28-10, Last week — 4th)
The schedule has been quite favorable for the Raps lately but the looming injury questions with Kyle Lowry are more important than anything that happens on the floor in January.
4. Houston Rockets (28-11, Last week — 2nd)
A clear line of demarcation remains between the top four and everyone else. Houston isn’t playing all that well at the moment in the absence of James Harden but its net rating and overall make-up dictate that there is something of a high floor until we see everyone healthy once again.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves (26-16, Last week — 5th)
Monday’s 28-point win over Cleveland was certainly a statement from the Wolves as they continue to play well. This isn’t a defensive juggernaut by any means but the production has been better on that end and, with the offensive tools at Tom Thibodeau’s disposal, upside emerges.
6. San Antonio Spurs (28-14, Last week — 6th)
This isn’t a team that could be described as “full strength” at the moment but they don’t need to be to stay afloat. The ultimate ceiling with San Antonio is debatable but the obscenely high floor is not.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers (26-14, Last week — 7th)
It is (very) hard to evaluate the Cavs. They’ve either been great or shaky for almost the entirety of the season and, right now, Cleveland has lost six of nine games including the aforementioned blowout at the hands of the Wolves. It’s nice to see Isaiah Thomas on the floor, though.
8. Miami Heat (22-17, Last week — 13th)
Miami’s recent hot streak hasn’t come against a murderer’s row of opponents but the Heat are taking care of business anyway. In truth, there is no scenario in which this team is actually “better” than the Thunder but their reward for improved play is a burst into the top eight.
9. Oklahoma City Thunder (22-18, Last week — 10th)
The Thunder were sitting pretty before losing to the Suns in their most recent outing. That defeat allowed Miami (and even Cleveland) to land ahead of Oklahoma City.
10. Washington Wizards (23-17, Last week — 8th)
This is just what the Wizards are. Washington feels like a 4/5 team in the East given their personnel and consistency issues and, well, that is where the team sits.
11. Philadelphia 76ers (19-19, Last week — 15th)
Stop for a moment and reflect on what the Sixers could be if Markelle Fultz is MARKELLE FULTZ when he returns. I know I’m ready for it.
12. Portland Trail Blazers (21-18, Last week — 11th)
Solid is the best way to describe the Blazers. That may be perceived as “boring” for some but, for others, it is a place of refuge.
13. Indiana Pacers (21-19, Last week — 20th)
The Pacers are 21-14 with Victor Oladipo in the lineup and 0-5 without him. That isn’t a coincidence.
14. Milwaukee Bucks (21-18, Last week — 12th)
Milwaukee loses the “tiebreaker” to the Pacers based on the most recent match-up between the two teams and, even if silly, that matters. The Bucks did go into Washington and win handily this week, which helps.
15. Denver Nuggets (21-19, Last week — 16th)
Losing to the Warriors by ten points at Oracle is almost a break-even result. That, of course, is absurd but nothing about the Nuggets should be altered based on this week’s efforts.
16. New Orleans Pelicans (20-19, Last week — 18th)
Boogie Cousins provided the most entertaining moment of Monday’s postgame and, before that, the Pelicans got another win. This is the epitome of a .500 basketball team but that’s something a lot of franchises would kill for at the moment, at least when it comes to current production and the ability to deploy two stars.
17. Detroit Pistons (21-18, Last week — 9th)
In some ways, it is perfectly fitting that Monday’s game between the Pelicans and Pistons was decided by three points on the home team’s floor. Those teams are dead-even.
18. Los Angeles Clippers (18-21, Last week — 14th)
Doc Rivers and company just navigated a five-game homestand with a 3-2 record and the two losses came to the Warriors and Thunder. Of course, it took everything for the Clippers to outlast the Hawks on Monday but, in truth, this is a team that will take the wins as they come.
19. Charlotte Hornets (15-23, Last week — 25th)
The Hornets have been hilariously bad in close games and that is driven home by the fact that Charlotte’s net rating is better than Detroit’s for the season. The luck may be turning, though, as the Hornets have won four of six.
20. New York Knicks (19-21, Last week — 17th)
It feels as if the Knicks are coming apart a bit after an encouraging start to the season. In some ways, that isn’t surprising and, plainly, Kristaps Porzingis couldn’t be near-perfect for the entire campaign. He needs to be for this particular Knicks squad to succeed on a high level, but fatigue has clearly set in for the Unicorn.
21. Phoenix Suns (16-26, Last week — 22nd)
Dragan Bender’s career-best night buoyed the Suns to an impressive win over the Thunder and Phoenix has been downright competitive for a while. It’s important to note that competitive doesn’t equal “good” but there is talent here and, when it clicks, it’s fun.
22. Utah Jazz (16-24, Last week — 19th)
It is difficult to post a 16-24 record with a -0.8 net rating. Utah has done just that. The Jazz continue to lose close games and, even with Donovan Mitchell’s rapid rise, things aren’t going overly well in Salt Lake City. Maybe some trade deadline activity can shake things up a bit in a good way for Utah.
23. Brooklyn Nets (15-25, Last week — 24th)
There is no shame whatsoever in losing to the Raptors and Celtics by a combined three points. Brooklyn wasn’t able to pick up a victory in either spot but they were impressive in battling to the end.
24. Chicago Bulls (14-27, Last week — 23rd)
The Bulls are back! Losing five of six is good for the tank but a win over Dallas keeps Chicago here. Sometimes it is as simple as the win-loss results.
25. Dallas Mavericks (13-28, Last week — 21st)
Last week’s rankings landed on the heels of a four-game winning streak for Dallas. Since then, the Mavs are 0-3 and each of those defeats came at home. In other words, normalcy returned.
26. Memphis Grizzlies (12-27, Last week — 27th)
Memphis has dropped three of five again but, in truth, none of those losses were “bad” in nature. Mike Conley can’t get back soon enough with regard to the Grizzlies being competitive but the whispers about being careful with him for the sake of a tanking operation are justified.
27. Sacramento Kings (13-26, Last week — 28th)
The Kings dwarf the field when it comes to net rating, as the team is still being outscored by 9.9 points per 100 possessions. Sacramento isn’t as bad as that number suggests but, in short, they aren’t overly dangerous on a nightly basis either.
28. Los Angeles Lakers (12-27, Last week — 29th)
You’ll see momentarily that the Lakers are ahead of the Hawks. That comes as a result of one reason and one reason alone. The Lakers throttled the Hawks on Sunday.
29. Atlanta Hawks (10-30, Last week — 26th)
After an encouraging stretch in which the team won three of four, the Hawks have fallen to Earth in conjunction with a west coast swing. At the moment, Atlanta has dropped its first four games on the trip and that hiccup places Mike Budenholzer and company in a two-game “lead” for the worst record in the league. It’s not great.
30. Orlando Magic (12-28, Last week — 30th)
A few weeks ago, it would have been unthinkable for the Magic to occupy the basement for three consecutive weeks. Losing 13 of 14 games will do that, though, and we can’t assume Orlando has reached rock bottom just yet.
Check out our DIME podcast this week with Jim Miller, author of ESPN the book. Subscribe on iTunes.
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