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.
Just browsing Reddit and Twitter, and Philadelphia fans have already become insufferable in a sense, at least from an outsider’s perspective. Ben Simmons this. Markelle Fultz that. Joel Embiid didn’t even play and the 76ers ran Cleveland out of the gym (for a half, at least). The 76ers beat a bunch of tanking teams over the past two and half weeks. There were wins against Minnesota and Denver mixed in, and then the major win over Cleveland that put the 76ers in the driver’s seat for the third seed last weekend. The rest of the competition has been miserable. But that doesn’t really matter. The 76ers are legitimate. The hype is real. Philadelphia is this good. It would be a disappointment if a fully healthy 76ers lost their first round match-up, even if most of their players, Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Joel Embiid, Simmons, Fultz, TJ McConnell, haven’t tasted the postseason. Philadelphia has become the talk of the NBA, with many saying there’s a path to the Eastern Conference Finals. This wasn’t supposed to happen this fast.
Back in 2010, Kevin Durant was my favorite player. The summer before senior year of high school, I bought his latest shoes, even. Durant and his Thunder teammates, young and inexperienced, made the postseason for the first time that season. Oklahoma City took the eventual champion Lakers six games in the first round. It gave them a taste of the postseason. The writing was then on the wall. The Thunder would be back with the experience to compete for a championship. OKC made the Western Conference Finals the next year. And then the NBA Finals the year after that. The trajectory for the 76ers, who have compiled the best young roster in the NBA since those Thunder teams, could be similar. It could even be faster.
Having veterans helps. JJ Redick has been a difference-maker lately. Marco Belinelli, no matter how poorly he plays defense, has been essential to second units that gave up leads nightly in November and December. Ersan Ilyasova provides a spark anytime he annoyingly takes a charge. Amir Johnson, criticized ad nauseam earlier this season, has been an impactful player in Embiid’s absence. The 76ers have veterans that the Thunder did not have. That Thunder team went 50-32 in 2010. Their five leading scorers for the postseason were 21, 21, 23, 20 and 20. The age of the 76ers five leading scorers this year? 23, 33, 21, 23, 31. The 76ers youth of Embiid, Simmons, Saric and Fultz might be comparable to Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden, but unlike those Thunder teams, Philadelphia has more than capable older players. Which should benefit the 76ers greatly beginning this weekend.
Fifty wins. For so long, the 76ers were either mediocre, or a laughingstock. The median season since 1992-1993 for the 76ers? 33 wins. It’s been mostly miserable watching an uninteresting offense, or a lackluster defense. This year it’s been different. Everything has been different. And it’s about to be even more different.
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