The Philadelphia 76ers are a real problem.
A combination of youth, versatility, athleticism and unteachable basketball savvy makes them a force to be reckoned with.
Joel Embiid leads the charge as one of the most dominant stretch centers we’ve ever seen to this point. Ben Simmons is the man among boys in a loaded rookie class.
Robert Covington continues to make strides toward becoming an elite two-way forward in this league. Dario Saric has gotten used to his new complimentary role and thrived. J.J. Redick came into the organization to be a veteran leader and is excelling in doing so.
According to NBA.com, that five-man lineup leads the NBA in net rating (min. 100 minutes) at 29.3 points per 100 possessions. Furthermore, the combination of Embiid and Covington is tied for tops in the league in net rating (20.3) with Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon of the Houston Rockets among two-man lineups with at least 300 minutes of on-floor time together.
Listed above or close to teams such as the Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors and the Rockets in those categories, it’s obvious that these Sixers are not to be taken lightly.
But as we all know by now, there is one constant measuring stick in the Eastern Conference, and his name is LeBron James.
“I think it’s a team that’s trying to make the next step,” James said at shootaround in Philadelphia. “They’ve given Brett [Brown] an opportunity to implement his system into this franchise, implement his system to the guys over the years, and I think it’s paying dividends for them now.
“They’ve sprinkled in some veterans with the young guys. Their young guys are playing extremely well—[Joel] Embiid and obviously, Ben [Simmons]. Brought some veterans in—J.J. Redick, Amir Johnson—so they’ve kind of re-shaped their whole roster for the greater good.”
As the next test for the rising group, the Cleveland Cavaliers are in town for a star-studded matchup on Monday night. Unsurprised by the development of the Sixers in the last few years, James preached the strategy of letting things marinate under Brown.
“Be patient, man,” James said to the contingent of reporters. “Just gotta be patient. Obviously, you guys have a mantra here of ‘Trust The Process.’ If you want to try to build something you cant just automatically think it’s going to happen overnight. The organization has done a great job of believing in Brett Brown’s system, believing in what he wanted to do and they gave him some time.
“You have sometimes a lot of teams, a lot of organizations in all sports kind of give up on the system or give up on the guy very fast and not allow him to implement and get players. You’ve gotta get players, too. And now that he has some, last couple of years, he’s continued to build the players, the personnel, the things that fit what he wants to do, and they’re playing good ball.”
Dwyane Wade echoes his teammate’s sentiments toward the budding club in the City of Brotherly Love, whom the veteran guard says has consistently had the same attitude, but now just has better players.
“Definitely a young team, obviously, but a very confident team,” Wade said at practice Sunday morning. “Very confident team. They have a great coach. Obviously, over the years they’ve been rebuilding, so from the outside, you can’t really tell probably how great of a coach he is. But if you played against those guys, you could tell. Even without as much talent the last few years, they’ve always been competitive.
“They play the game hard on the defensive end of the floor and on the offensive end, they execute in running the offense. But now they have more talent to that, so that’s a team that believes that their time is not later [but] that their time is coming real soon, and they play with that confidence.”
On the other side of the fence, the Cavaliers have ripped off seven straight games after a rough start to the season. They’re getting their legs under them, have been playing better defense and are shooting the ball better.
Part of the stumbles out of the gate had to do with a combination of effort and fatigue, but much of that can be attributed to a lack of on-court chemistry due to the roster turnover. Now that the guys have started to understand their roles and built trust in one another, it’s led to better results.
“Playing better defensively and also just rebounding the basketball,” Cleveland head coach Tyronn Lue said of reasons for the success. “I think our guards with ‘Bron and D-Wade and those guys have really helped rebound the basketball since we’re playing small, so rebounding’s been a big factor for us.”
Things haven’t looked great from the jump, but having won back-to-back-to-back East titles, Cleveland is still looking to prove it is still the standard bearer of the conference.
“You know that,” Wade said of Philadelphia’s hunger to dethrone the Cavaliers. “You know that when the schedule come out you’re one of the teams that’s marked on the calendar for these teams. For this young team, it’s just something that they’re trying to measure up and see where they’re at this point in the season—versus a team that’s been in the Finals three years in a row in the Eastern Conference, that’s been the kings of the East.
“So it’s definitely a measuring stick game for them and as a veteran team, you understand that. You’ve gotta get up for it. You’ve gotta be ready for it. If not, they gon’ blow you out, so we gotta make sure that we’re up and we’re ready for it.”
Simmons is listed as questionable with a left elbow injury, but it’d be surprising to see him miss a game of this importance.
If he does in fact play and the Sixers are at full strength against a Cavaliers team that’s in a groove like they are, grab your popcorn because it’s going to be a good one.
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