The Harden-era 76ers will face their first real test over the next seven games
The debut of James Harden on the Philadelphia 76ers honestly could not have gone any better. That being said, the first three games of the Harden-Era came against subpar opponents in the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the New York Knicks.
Tonight, the 76ers will finally be tested against a team that’s currently ranked fifth in the Eastern Conference in the Cleveland Cavaliers. From there, the Sixers will face the East-leading Miami Heat, followed by the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets in South Philadelphia. Needless to say, it’s time to see just how good of a team we have in the 76ers with James Harden on the court.
The Cavaliers are one of the premier youth-driven teams, with two All-Stars under the age of 23 in Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen. Throw in one of the most captivating rookies in Evan Mobley and it isn’t hard to see why the Cavs have surprised everyone this season and have made some noise in the Eastern Conference.
The stats back it up too. Cleveland has nine players averaging over 11 points a game, a claim few teams in the Association can make. Having that deep of a bench means the Cavs rarely have to take their foot off the gas, and having veterans like Kevin Love and Rajon Rondo around helps keep the team grounded.
With the plethora of big bodies the Cavs can throw at the 76ers, Joel Embiid will have his work cut out for him all night. No, I’m not saying that any of them can guard him, but they’ll certainly all be able to keep the motor going as long as they don’t foul often and early.
This game will be the first real test for Doc Rivers’ new rotations. With the Cavs effectively playing ten guys, fatigue won’t be as much as an issue, and this team loves to keep their foot on the gas with the youth they have rostered. If Doc doesn’t want to let leads cut out by the starters slip, he’ll have to correctly space out Embiid, Harden, Maxey, and Harris.
The 76ers will end this upcoming seven game stretch with the Cavaliers in Cleveland, so Sixers fans should get used to watching Darius Garland and company.
For the second time in a row, the 76ers will have to go straight from a Friday night game in the Wells Fargo Center to South Beach to take on the Miami Heat. How this was allowed by the NBA, no one truly knows. Regardless, the new-look Sixers will get a big chance to close the gap for the top seed in the East as their next contest during the seven-game litmus test.
Funnily enough the last time the 76ers faced the Heat was that first back-to-back ending in Miami where the 76ers were able to pull off the upset. After last night’s slate of NBA games, the 76ers on an off-night moved into a tie for second place with the Chicago Bulls, 2.5 games behind the East-leading Heat.
The Heat are the first contender the Sixers will face post trade deadline. With their own big three of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Kyle Lowry, Miami is set for a deep playoff runs. Add in Tyler Hero looking like his rookie self again, along with a deep bench and Saturday’s matchup in Miami could be a preview of a potential Eastern Conference Finals matchup.
The Chicago Bulls are surprisingly 0-3 against the 76ers this season and have recently been labeled a “fake” contender due to their record against top seeded teams. However, injuries have really hindered a very stacked Bulls roster.
The Bulls are another team carrying their own big three of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Lonzo Ball. Yet, their stars have had little time together on the court and the 76ers will likely not have to see Lonzo who’s still on the injured list.
Regardless, this team has its own MVP candidate on it with DeMar single-handedly bringing the mid-range game back from the dead. Throw in a great center in Nikola Vucevic next to two of the best young scorers in the East and this team could give Philly problems, but we just haven’t seen those problems quite yet.
If you’re keeping track of dates, March 10th will sound very familiar to you. The day many 76ers fans have circled on their calendar when the Brooklyn Nets and Ben Simmons come to south Philly. While it is highly unlikely Simmons plays due to his “conditioning” and the fact he’s too chicken to handle the boos, this is another game against an Eastern Conference contender.
With Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant likely suiting up this game, the 76ers will certainly have their defense tested. The clash of two great duos in the league comes together, and not to mention the homecoming of two 76ers that actually took the court in Andre Drummond and Seth Curry.
Literally no one expects Ben Simmons to play or even attend this game but we’ll just have to wait and see if Simmons finds his way to the bench on March 10th.
Before anyone gets angry, I am not calling the Orlando Magic a premier talent of the East. This game simply falls in the middle of a ton of great matchups to test the 76ers. I will say, Markelle Fultz coming back to Philly after fully recovering from the ACL tear should grab some headlines.
Outside of that, should be a stomping in route to a season sweep for the Sixers.
Finally, the battle of the two generational centers of our time. With Embiid missing the 76ers matchup against the Nuggets in Denver earlier this season (a game Philly won by the way), this will be the only time we get to watch Jokic vs Embiid.
It will be the battle of two MVP candidates, but more importantly the battle of the statsexuals versus the true hoops guys. Twitter will be on fire the entire contest, and I personally cannot wait for this matchup to watch Jokic get bodied every possession down the court by the one true Most Valuable Player.
Outside of that heavyweight belt this is another playoff team from the West the 76ers will host, a great way to close out the real litmus test for the 76ers.
Seven games, ten days. This is the window that will truly tell us is the 76ers are poised for a finals run, so buckle up.
Mandatory Credit: The Athletic
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