The 76ers made the NBA Finals 17 years ago. Since then, Philadelphia has played nine playoff series, losing seven of them. Saturday night the 76ers will host their first Game 1 since April 20, 2003. Head coach Brett Brown says star center Joel Embiid won’t play that game. But Wells Fargo Center promises to rock harder than a Jack White concert regardless.
It wasn’t supposed to happen this fast. All of this success. Sure, nothing has really been won yet. But 50 wins? Fifty wins means something. Fifty wins for just the second time since 1990. It’s a benchmark. A talking point for fanbases to argue and dissect. Tuesday night, the 76ers go for 51. And then Wednesday they could go for 52. Philadelphia is positioned to be a three seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs this weekend. It didn’t seem fathomable back in October. It seemed even less likely following losses to the Suns and Kings a couple months later. But here the 76ers are. Fifty wins.
I rarely participated in the Markelle Fultz discussion. I saw the videos posted on Reddit and Twitter. The footage of the top pick in the draft forgetting how to shoot a basketball. But I rarely entertained them. Not that I didn’t care. Of course I cared. But I wanted to pretend everything would be just fine. I try to remain as positive as possible in every situation, which obviously can be unhealthy at times, and downright delusional. But not with something you literally have no control over, and I couldn’t have less control over Fultz’s jumper.
Ben Simmons won’t find out if he’s Rookie of the Year until June. Donovan Mitchell is his biggest challenger, his only challenger actually. After Simmons sprinted to a sizable lead in October, there didn’t seem to be any sort of competition. Mitchell, however, has made things more interesting than previously imagined. This isn’t a post detailing why Simmons should be Rookie of the Year over Mitchell, because it’s hard to say. I don’t watch many Utah Jazz games. I did see Mitchell drop 40 points twice, and he’s been clutch, at times, down the stretch of games. The Jazz have been nearly unbeatable for the past couple months (that might have something to do with Rudy Gobert being healthy for Utah’s top-level defense), but Mitchell has been the go-to scorer, carrying the offensive load with Gordon Hayward leaving the team last July. Simmons benefits from playing with a gigantic difference maker in Joel Embiid. But again, Simmons being most qualified for Rookie of the Year isn’t the point of this exercise. Simmons has outplayed any expectation during the regular season.
I am a core subscriber to a half dozen or so podcasts. I have the schedule mostly memorized as to when a certain show will be available for download. The worst thing, before embarking on a lengthy drive or while in the midst of making a gourmet chicken with vegetable dinner, is not having a podcast to pass the time. Several weeks back, a situation presented itself where I was frantically searching for something in the Apple podcast browse section to pass the time when I stumbled across “Everything Happens.”
The 76ers won their 35th game Tuesday night against the Hornets. The last time Philadelphia won at least 35 games in a season was lockout-shortened 2011-2012. With 19 games to go, the 76ers have an opportunity to surpass their highest win total since 2004-2005 when they won 43 games. In 2002-2003, the 76ers won 48 games. Only six of Philadelphia’s next 19 games come against teams currently in the postseason, which means the 76ers could very well have their best season since Ben Simmons was six.
It’s easy to cheer for certain guys. Guys like Chris Long, who donated every regular season game check. Guys like Alshon Jeffery, who, despite not having the best year of his career, only cared about winning rather than his numbers. Guys like Carson Wentz, who doesn’t just talk the talk but backs up his faith with meaningful contributions to those who need it most. The Eagles have several players who use their platform to amaze people more off the field than on it. Everybody also loves to cheer for players who have overcome something. Everybody faces adversity, of course, but some players, especially football ones, only have so many opportunities to make a difference; to prove they belong. Days after a Super Bowl win, I can’t help but think about two players. Two players who could have given up. But they stuck with it. They believed in themselves. Even when nobody else did.