A Cold Winter Awaits
It’s 2019, the year that the final season of Game of Thrones is released. Although that doesn’t happen until April, it’s only fair that we use one of the series’ most famous words to describe the upcoming stretch of games for the Philadelphia 76ers — Winter is Coming.
Winter itself actually started on December 21, but the bleakest time of winter begins now for the Sixers. Big moments lay ahead for a team still vying to find its identity in the early weeks of the new year.
Their next three games are very winnable against Atlanta, New York, and Minnesota. After that comes a stretch where the Sixers play 11 of 12 against teams that are currently over the .500 mark.
This is when we see who the Sixers really are, in the coldest moments of winter.
Let’s take a look at the brutal upcoming chunk of games for Philadelphia, which starts on January 17.
Winter is Here
The Sixers’ journey through the winter begins with some tough tests on their home floor.
Jan. 17 at Indiana (27-14): The two teams split the first pair of meetings against one another. The road team has won each game. The Pacers have gone on a hot streak dating back to the first day of winter, winning seven of their last eight.
Jan. 19 vs. Oklahoma City (25-16): The Thunder have been very up-and-down as of late, going 6-4 over their last 10, which includes losses in their last three games. Russell Westbrook is shooting well below his career-numbers, but OKC still poses a challenge with multiple perimeter threats in Westbrook, Paul George, and former Sixer, Jerami Grant.
Jan. 21 vs. Houston (23-17): Over his last five games, James Harden is averaging nearly 40 points to go along with 11 assists and 8.2 rebounds. Even with those stats, Houston is just 3-2 in that stretch with losses coming to the Bucks and Trailblazers. The Sixers won’t have to worry about Chris Paul since he’s injured. Surprisingly, Philly has the edge in bench support against Houston. The Sixers reserves score 34.2 points per game (22nd) while Houston is dead last at 26.5 per game.
Jan. 23 vs. San Antonio (25-18): The Spurs topped the Sixers 123-96 in San Antonio back on December 17, the second night of a back-to-back for Philadelphia. Since the two teams met, the Spurs have gone 10-2 while the Sixers have gone 7-3. The Sixers won’t be on the back end of consecutive games, so hopefully we’ll see a better effort. San Antonio took 11 less shots than the Sixers in the first meeting and shot 9.7% better from the floor.
After the first three games of the stretch, the Sixers travel west of the wall to face some of the most powerful houses in the NBA. Stops on The Kingsroad include Los Angeles, home of King James, and defending champion Golden State.
Jan. 26 at Denver (28-12): The Nuggets have won seven of their last eight games, and these games offer a compelling matchup between big men Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic. Both are strong considerations for Defensive Player of the Year at this point. The Sixers took the season series last year, 2-0.
Jan. 29 at Lakers (23-19): The Lakers have been without LeBron James since December 27. Since then, they’ve posted a 3-5 record. James (groin) is going to be re-evaluated on January 21, so there’s a chance he returns before the first meeting between the Lakers and Sixers. Joel Embiid had one of the best nights of his career last season in L.A., scoring 46 points to go along with seven rebounds and seven blocks in a 115-109 win on November 15, 2017.
Jan. 31 at Golden State (27-14): Despite dealing with multiple injuries to different players this season, the Warriors remain on track for a potential title repeat. Currently trailing Denver by 1.5 games in the West, Golden State is about to get DeMarcus Cousins back after the big man suffered an Achilles injury last season with the Pelicans. Steph Curry and Kevin Durant are each averaging over 28 points per game, and the Warriors as a whole are fourth in the league in three-point percentage (.381).
Feb. 2 at Sacramento (21-21): The Kings were projected by many to be a team in line for a top-5 pick. That doesn’t look like it will be the case at this point. Although they have lost five of their last seven games, the Kings’ young core is strong. Buddy Hield, De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Marvin Bagley III have impressed this season. Ideally, the Kings keep winning games. Why? Don’t forget that Boston owns their first round pick that was traded to them by the Sixers. Philly will also get a look at forward Nemanja Bjelica, who spurned them for the Kings. The Sixers could use his scoring ability as the 30-year-old Serbian is averaging 10.8 points while shooting 43.5 percent from beyond.
Staking Claim for the Throne
After a four-game trek west of the wall, the Sixers have an opportunity to defeat two of their divisional rivals and move closer to the Eastern Conference crown
Feb. 5 vs. Toronto (31-12): The Raptors and Sixers have split the first two games of their four-game season series with Philadelphia earning the win when Toronto was without Kawhi and Serge Ibaka. This matchup should feature those two back in the lineup, so the Sixers will have an opportunity to take care of one of the East’s top teams on their home floor. That being said, Toronto just hasn’t been a great matchup for the Sixers even before they had Kawhi.
Feb. 8 vs. Denver
Feb. 10 vs. Lakers
Feb. 12 vs. Boston (25-16): The Celtics have taken the first two games of the season series with the final two games set to take place in Philadelphia. Boston defeated the Sixers on Opening Night and most recently in a tightly-contested Christmas Day game. When it comes to games against Boston, the Sixers’ lack of depth and perimeter defense is badly exposed. Since they’ll be playing at home, hopefully the tide turns for the Sixers, who are still trying to cement themselves as contenders in the East.
Apter Thoughts: In this 12-game stretch, the Sixers play five at home and seven on the road. They are 18-3 at home as of January 11 and 9-12 on the road. In an ideal situation, the Sixers find a way to go 7-5 or even 8-4 over this stretch. However because of their road struggles and inconsistent bench, 6-6 or 5-7 seems more likely.