The upcoming schedule will be a massive test for the Philadelphia 76ers. It will feature playoff/contending teams for a stretch of six games.
The Sixers have struggled against talented teams throughout the season; taking losses to the likes of the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, and more.
These struggles have caused speculation and debate on where the Sixers currently rank against their rival teams. The upcoming stretch will help gauge the Sixers against their competition.
From January 17th to the 31st, the Sixers will have arguably the hardest stretch of the season. Let’s take a look at the matchups, and what to specifically watch for in each one.
First Matchup: Indiana Pacers
On the 17th, they will take on the Indiana Pacers in an away contest. This is a bigger game than it will probably get credit for, as the Sixers have previously struggled against this deep squad. Guarding Victor Oladipo is always a challenge, but the team will have to compete against a really talented bench. This could also be a playoff preview as the Pacers will certainly be a top seeded team.
Things to look for: The Sixers defending Oladipo. The team has been torched by a multitude of guards, and he’s no exception. Look for the team to try and limit him as much as possible.
Second Matchup: Oklahoma City Thunder
The Sixers will take on the OKC Thunder for the first time this season at home on January 19th. The Thunder started off the season slow, but the team has found its rhythm and has been on a complete tear since. Russell Westbrook has been struggling offensively as of late, which would matter a lot more if Paul George wasn’t on his team. George has been putting up career highs in multiple categories and is among the best two-way players in the league. This is also the deepest team the Thunder have had in a while; featuring quality role players such as ex-Sixers’ Jerami Grant and Nerlens Noel.
Things to look for: The Sixers haven’t beaten the Thunder since November 15th, 2008. This is the longest losing streak currently active in the league to an individual team. The Sixers have the most talented squad they’ve had since 2001. Look to see if they can put an end to that streak.
Third Matchup: Houston Rockets
The Sixers will host their first meeting against the Houston Rockets at home on the 21st. The Rockets are another team that started off incredibly slow, but have since picked up the pace. James Harden has turned back into his MVP-form and has been on a complete tear as of late. Arguably the best offensive player in the NBA, the Sixers will definitely have their hands full trying to slow him down. Chris Paul will likely be out for this game, as he’s dealing with a nagging hamstring injury. Regardless, the Rockets are a dangerous team.
Things to look for: How much the Sixers can limit Harden will determine the outcome of this game. He’s dropped a 50 point triple-double at Wells Fargo Center before, but if they can limit him, they should be able to come out with a valuable win.
Fourth Matchup: San Antonio Spurs
The Sixers already took on the Spurs once this season, but the outcome was ugly. We saw first hand what mid-range hell looked like, as DeMar DeRozan and Lamarcus Aldridge dismantled the Sixers’ defense. The Spurs record is deceiving, as they are a talented team in a tough conference. Gregg Popovich is the greatest coach of all time, and you can never really count out this team. Expect this to a tough game on both ends of the floor. Luckily, the Sixers will be playing on their home court this time around on January 23rd.
Things to look for: Defending the midrange shot. The Sixers have shown a willingness to give up the midrange shot, as statistically it’s the worst shot in basketball. The Spurs are different, and their star players thrive off of this shot.
Fifth Matchup: Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets look like they have finally turned the corner and are currently the number 1 seed in the Western Conference. The Sixers will take on this team for the first time this year on the 26th in Denver. The Sixers played well against this team last year and swept the season series against them. Joel Embiid has killed Nikola Jokic in nearly every matchup so far. The Nuggets do have an advantage (like most teams) in terms of depth against the Sixers.
Things to look for: This is a possible future Finals matchup, if things go well for the Sixers and Nuggets. Both teams have bright futures, and this matchup can give us a small glimpse into a possible future rivalry. Obviously, the Embiid vs. Jokic matchup will be very entertaining. A lot of Sixers fans like to refer back to this tweet from Reggie Miller: https://twitter.com/ReggieMillerTNT/status/831364166569033728
Sixth Matchup: Los Angeles Lakers
The time will finally come to take on the team LeBron James chose over the Sixers. The Lakers have had a very up and down season but have shown to be a quality squad so far. The Sixers typically play well against this team, but adding LeBron into the mix makes it a completely different ball game. The Sixers will look for a statement victory against this club in Los Angeles on the 29th.
Things to look for: Look for Joel Embiid to have a massive game. For some reason, Joel Embiid always plays well in Staples Center,and last year had a career high 46 points against the Lakers. The Lakers don’t have a center to consistently limit Embiid. You can make a bet that Embiid will want to make a statement against LeBron James.
Seventh Matchup: Golden State Warriors
The Sixers will take on the super team that is the Golden State Warriors on the 31st in Oakland. This will be a very tough game to win, as winning against the Warriors is always hard. Winning against the Warriors in Oakland…is near impossible. The Sixers will have their hands full defending the perimeter against the likes of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant. The Warriors have lost a large amount of depth due to salary cap reasons, but this is still a very challenging squad. It isn’t unreasonable to think Demarcus Cousins might be playing this game either.
What to look for: The Sixers’ defensive plan. Defending Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant will be the biggest point of emphasis, so it will be interesting to see how the Sixers limit those two offensive weapons.
This stretch of seven games could be brutal for the Sixers. These are all very good teams that can put up a good fight. The Sixers may struggle with this portion of the schedule – and that’s no reason to panic.
On the other side, the Sixers can benefit from this. If the team manages to go .500 or above, it could be huge. This is by far the toughest stretch for the team, and it would only get easier from there on out.
How will the young Sixers respond to this type of challenge? We will see in the near future.