Amid all the hype surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles historic Super Bowl journey, the Philadelphia 76ers have quietly positioned themselves to make a playoff run as the All-Star break looms around the corner. On Tuesday, the 76ers, who are currently sitting at the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings, took home an important 115-102 win over the surging Washington Wizards to begin a crucial stretch of games before the break.
Inspired by the pregame festivities celebrating the Birds’ championship, the Sixers starting five came out hot in the first quarter with balanced shooting that saw four different starters make the first four baskets. Dario Saric scored on a driving lay-up, Ben Simmons on a dunk and then Joel Embiid and JJ Redick both hit threes.
Saric came out particularly strong, scoring seven points in the first six minutes to help give the Sixers a convincing 22-7 lead early on. By the end of the first, the Sixers had made 16 of their 23 shots, were 5-6 on three pointers and held an impressive 37-20 lead.
Even though the Wizards star shooting guard Bradley Beal eventually found his shot and put up a game high 30 points by the end of the contest, it wasn’t enough to rattle the Sixers and their amped-up crowd. Philadelphia ultimately held the lead for the entire game, and despite racking up 17 turnovers, the Sixers avoided another costly meltdown that fans have seen far too often this season. The other members of the starting five, all of who shot in the double digits, complimented Saric’s impressive shooting.
What really saved the Sixers from another one of their third quarter slip ups was their effectiveness from beyond the arc. Philadelphia was lights out from three, converting 12-24 as seven different players scored from deep. Reddick found his stride with four three pointers, Embiid made three, Saric and Robert Covington both had two, Justin Anderson had one, TJ McConnell converted on his lone three point attempt and even Amir Johnson showed his range after surprisingly hitting a three from the corner.
Simmons was another standout performer in this one with 15 points, eight assists, six rebounds and two steals.
The win started off a good home stretch for the Sixers who will be looking to make the most out of their next four games, all of which are at home in Philadelphia where the Sixers have yet to lose in 2018.
Philadelphia will play host to the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday, the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday, the New York Knicks on Monday and the Miami Heat on Wednesday before the break.
Considering the fact that three of those four teams will be without key players, the upcoming stretch could be a prime opportunity for a winning streak at a crucial time in the season.
The Sixers will face a banged up New Orleans team that is without one of their two star big men, Demarcus Cousins. The Clippers are still adjusting to life without Blake Griffin (although the Joel Embiid DeAndre Jordan match-up should be a fun one). And the Knicks have lost five straight and will have trouble turning it around without All-Star Kristaps Porzingis who went down with an ACL tear earlier in the week.
Factor in the incredible atmosphere that currently surrounds the Philadelphia fan base and the Sixers are more than capable of entering the All-Star break riding a five game winning streak.
Perhaps even more important than any favorable match-up or home crowd buzz is the faith that head coach Brett Brown has in his current squad.
The Sixers did not make any moves prior to the trade deadline on Thursday even though the potential was there to get another shooter in Marco Belinelli from the Atlanta Hawks.
After dodging questions about trade rumors all week, Brown has made it clear that he wants to focus on the upcoming home stand, and more importantly, the playoff push, now that the deadline has come and gone.
“In all my 17 years of doing it, I’ve never had five home games prior to an all-star break. We have a chance in the next five games to make some ground and not play catch-up after the all-star break,” Brown said.
With a home stand that may prove to be one of the turning points in the season, Brown wants the Sixers focused on the here and now as the team is hungry to be the next Philly underdog story.
“There will be people on teams and their minds will be on Bermuda,” Brown said. “I want ours in the Wells Fargo building here in this city. We know what we want. It’s to be a playoff team.”
Andrew Heller is a fifth-year student majoring in English. ✉ AH8204286@wcupa.edu.