Just a couple of weeks ago, the Philadelphia 76ers were sitting at 7-24, competing for lottery balls with the Celtics (they have Brooklyn’s pick), Miami and the other bottom-dwellers of the NBA. Then, out of nowhere, something clicked.
The 76ers have won eight of their last ten games, and have moved to 15-26, surpassing their previous season win total by five, and we are still in the middle of January. Their most recent win came tonight, against the Portland Trail Blazers. After trailing by thirteen at halftime, the 76ers made their run in the third quarter to make it a one point deficit, and Robert Covington drilled two three-pointers in the final 35 seconds including the game winner with 4.5 seconds to go. After the game, head coach Brett Brown spoke about the 76ers’ winning ways.
“Our guys are feeling good about themselves. We found a way to win…again,” Brown said postgame.
The 76ers, a team that has never been able to finish close games, are now 5-1 since December 1st in games decided by five points or less. That, is a sign of process progress.
This ride of the last ten games has been unreal. A starting lineup of TJ McConnell, Nik Stauskas, Robert Covington, Ersan Ilyasova and Joel Embiid has won eight of their last ten games, including home wins against Charlotte, Toronto and Portland and a road win at Milwaukee.
So, how did all of this happen? How did this “big” logjam turn into a team where everyone plays to their role? One simple word: chemistry. Nerlens Noel, who has been content with his role off the bench, said that this 2016-2017 team is the closest team he’s played on in his fourth season with the franchise.
There are only so many minutes to go around, but every one of these players has found a niche, and a part. TJ McConnell, an underrated scrappy point guard starting and playing lockdown defense against Damian Lillard and Kyle Lowry in the guts of the game. Ersan Ilyasova, traded for Jerami Grant, has been extremely streaky shooting the ball. Nik Stauskas, after a brutal first two seasons in the NBA, has come to life with his three-point shot and ball-handling. Veteran and Philly native Gerald Henderson signed this season has hit a couple of clutch shots and has helped with perimeter defense.
Though, can someone write an article about the 76ers without mentioning Joel “The Process” Embiid? The answer is no. Embiid leading this team of young players with a few vets mixed in, has been an amazing sight to see. The jumper and handles of a guard but a post-game of a young Tim Duncan, the combination shows the uniqueness of the young fellow from Cameroon.
Where’s Ben Simmons? Ah, right. Hurt during training camp, Simmons has been working on his jumper and grinding in the gym and is almost ready to come back and join the young nucleus.
The future is bright. Sure, this winning might not ensure the 76ers a top-three pick again, but the franchise is still sitting pretty when it comes to the upcoming draft. They will have either their own or the Sacramento Kings pick in the first round (whichever one is better due to a pick swap in a previous trade) and own the Lakers pick as long as it is not in the top three (right now the pick is sitting at #4).
So Philly, yes, basketball is back. With the other three professional sports in The City of Brotherly Love faltering, it’s time to jump on and enjoy this team. If you hadn’t before, it seems that it’s time to trust the process.