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.
There’s no such thing as a sure thing, but the 76ers have positioned themselves nicely to secure a playoff berth this season. They’re projected (between Basketball-Reference, FiveThirtyEight and ESPN) an average of 48 wins, good for third in the Eastern Conference. Right now, however, Philadelphia sits in sixth place, two games back from the third-seeded Cavaliers. It’s been a memorable season for the 76ers, despite the hiccups and heartache caused with the Markelle Fultz saga. Joel Embiid has been damn impressive. Simmons has been a better defensive player than one could imagine. JJ Redick helped Philadelphia tremendously all season, especially in the beginning several weeks with big performances in wins over Indiana and Orlando.
Two years ago, Philadelphia won 10 total times. The last win that season, against the Pelicans, happened the night before Sam Hinkie was run out of town. During the win, Carl Landry received MVP chants from the crowd. It feels like an eternity ago. But the two-year anniversary of that win is April 5. Landry missed one shot that night, scoring 22 points. Only two current players (Robert Covington and TJ McConnell) played in that win.
The change happened rapidly. Embiid became a revelation in 31 games last season. His season ended too soon. He didn’t play back-to-back games. But it was fun to watch the 76ers, although in a trivial way, especially during the second half. Philadelphia won 28 games. There was the win against Boston in March. There was a near win at Golden State shortly before. Brett Brown appeared to get the most out of his players. Things were looking up.
This has been the most fun season watching the 76ers in sometime. Over five years ago, the 76ers made things interesting with a playoff series win over the Chicago Bulls and an entertaining series loss against the Celtics. That team, led by Andre Iguodala, was never destined for anything more than middle of the road. It’s why Hinkie had to happen. This year every game matters. Back in December, the 76ers lost to the Kings in a game they had no business losing, and I remember how frustrated I was as De’Aaron Fox hit the game winner. People blame the youth for blowing big leads against the Raptors, the Warriors, the Cavaliers throughout the season. It hasn’t always been pretty, sure, but this team continues to grow and get better. This season marks the time before real expectations happen. The Oklahoma City Thunder core needed one playoff series before making the NBA Finals the ensuing season. There’s also an oft-chance LeBron James joins the squad this summer, which means this could very well be the last time the 76ers enter the playoffs unlikely to make a long run.
The 76ers are still a ways away. The regular season might be close to over, but Philadelphia has plenty of business to take of before playoffs happen. Two years feels like ages ago, but it’s been even longer since the 76ers were actually relevant. That changes this spring. Philadelphia has a chance to host a playoff series for the first time since 2003 when the fourth-seeded 76ers defeated the fifth-seeded New Orleans Hornets. Ben Simmons was six.