Several nights ago, the Philadelphia 76ers hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers in what was anticipated to be one of the most important games of the year for both teams.
The contest lived up to the hype as the Sixers bested the Cavs 132-130, gaining firm control of the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference standings for the time being. With two games left to play against the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia sits comfortably in the driver seat at 50-30, clinching their first 50 win season since winning 56 games back in 2000-2001.
Sunday’s win against the Mavericks also clinched them home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2002-2003.
However, going back to Friday night, this wasn’t just a preview for a potential playoff matchup. It was something far more significant. The 76ers’ win over the Cavaliers was a statement to the whole NBA and more importantly, a statement to the best player in the game.
Friday night’s matchup in South Philly spoke volumes as it declared: The 76ers have arrived and they’re only getting better.
Ben Simmons and the Sixers showed that they can go toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the league and walk away with a win. They displayed a scoring prowess showcased by their 78 points in the first half. They exhibited the ability to close out games (even though they almost blew a 30-point lead).
They displayed the ability to win big games, against top competition, even without their best player. But above all else, they showed LeBron James that Philadelphia is an attractive free agent destination and that they are here to stay.
During Philadelphia’s 14-game win streak (second longest in team history), they’ve played like the best team in the NBA. Like no joke, they have statistically been the best team in the NBA.
Since March 15, the Sixers are averaging 117.2 PPG, 32.1 APG, and 50.3 RPG, all tops among NBA ranks. Their +13 point differential is also first in NBA to go along with a top three ranking in field goal percentage at 48.6%. However, they’re not just doing this on the offensive end.
This team’s ability to play lockdown defense has been crucial during their 14-game win streak. They have been holding opponents to a field goal percentage of 42.2% with a defensive rating of 98.2, both first in the association.
Ben Simmons has been on an absolute tear during this stretch as he’s been averaging a triple-double of 14.7 PPG, 10.1 RPG, and 10.9 APG. No player, prior to Simmons, has ever averaged a triple-double over a winning streak of 10+ games in NBA history. Over the last 50 years, only 28 NBA players have more CAREER triple- doubles than Ben Simmons.
Put that into perspective considering he’s only played in 79 total games. This kid’s the real deal and the fact that people believe Donovan Mitchell deserves any consideration for Rookie of the Year is absurd.
Yet, with the Sixers on fire and Simmons rolling, it’s hard not to see the potential this team has. With two All-NBA talents under the age of 25, loads of cap space, and a Coach of the Year candidate in Brett Brown, the Sixers have put the league on notice and have placed their mark on the NBA landscape. One person who I’m sure has been paying attention is four-time MVP, LeBron James.
James, whose Cavs are now a game back of the 76ers in the East, is in the final year of his contract (Player Option for 2018-2019) and is on the verge of making his next big decision of his NBA career. A decision that will most likely determine where he spends the rest of his NBA career.
The Sixers already have a hand in the hat of the LeBron sweepstakes, as he has publicly announced his final four teams he will consider this summer: The Cavaliers, Sixers, Lakers, and Rockets.
Of the four teams, Philadelphia seems to make the most sense. The Lakers have intriguing young pieces but aren’t close to title-contending. The Cavaliers don’t match up well against the NBA elite and have plateaued in just how good they can be (The Brooklyn pick, however, can make for an intriguing case). And the Rockets are title ready, but I don’t know how they’d be able to afford James, Paul, and Harden. Plus the Kevin Durant scenario adds a little to this in the whole winning on his own thing, and not teaming up/ tarnishing his legacy.
People hate to admit it, but the 76ers give LeBron his best bet in winning multiple titles.
For starters, they are young. LeBron doesn’t have to be the alpha dog his whole time there. Embiid is already on pace in becoming the best center in the league, and Simmons is looking like a mini LeBron minus the jump shot. Saric and Fultz aren’t chopped liver either at 24 and 19 years of age respectfully.
Owning a potential top 10 pick this year in the Lakers’ draft pick is icing on the cake in terms of staying young. As LeBron gets older, this team gets more experienced and acclimated to the trials of the NBA season and playoffs. The 76ers allow LeBron to age gracefully toward the end of his career.
Unlike in Houston, where you have a soon to be 33-year-old Chris Paul, Philadelphia has players that can only get better from here. And after seeing what Philly has done this season with mainly first and second-year talents, it’d be a scary sight to see what James could do in that lineup.
This win streak has done more for this team than it could have imagined. Sitting at 36-30 before this stretch, the Sixers appeared as a good, but nothing to be scared of NBA team. They were 6th in the Eastern Conference standings and were expected to be a first-round exit in the playoffs.
Since then, the narrative has changed and has potentially improved this team’s fortunes immensely. During this streak, the Sixers have shown they are closer to title contention than people think, as they now hold the fifth best record in the NBA. They check all the boxes and have demonstrated they have the tools for a dangerous playoff squad.
Let’s see. A point guard who makes everyone around him better (Simmons)? Check.
A big man with a post presence on the offensive and defensive end (Embiid)? Check.
A deep second unit that can put up points of their own (Belinelli, Fultz, Ilyasova)? Check.
And let’s not forget the man in charge who has orchestrated a 20 plus win turn around from a season ago in Brett Brown.
This 14-game win streak has done wonders for this franchise as it has propelled them up into the upper echelon of NBA teams. This team is built for the playoffs and is a 6’8” 250 lbs missing piece away from perennial title contention.
With no other team set for future sustained success quite like the Sixers, LeBron’s decision on his next NBA team shouldn’t be a hard one. Do the right thing LeBron. Do the smart thing and listen to those billboards. Complete the Process.