From a national perspective, the vast majority of discussion surrounding the Philadelphia 76ers this season revolves around Ben Simmons. The Sixers are operating without their second-best player in 2021-22, navigating treacherous waters on the court and attempting to figure out the organization’s best course of action long-term. At minimum, there is no guarantee that Simmons will be traded before February’s deadline and, as of now, there are no signs that the former No. 1 overall pick will return to the floor in a Philadelphia uniform. As such, the Sixers are pressing on with a weakened roster but, in recent days, the signs are fairly positive for Philly’s path to contention in the East.
The Sixers are on a four-game winning streak, improving to 20-16 on the season. Given that Philadelphia started 8-2, it may be difficult to summon excitement about a 20-16 mark through 36 games, but three of the four victories came on the road, and a deeper look at the numbers paints a strong picture.
Embiid remains an All-NBA caliber force, and he has been dominant in recent days. The talented center is averaging 30.6 points, 10.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game in the last 13 contests, and Embiid is shooting 53 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three-point range, and 86 percent on 10.7 free throw attempts per game. That combination of productivity and efficiency speaks for itself, and Embiid is averaging 34.3 points and 11.5 rebounds on elite shooting during the four-game winning streak. Beyond the individual numbers, it is easy to see Embiid’s impact on the team. The Sixers are 17-8 when Embiid plays and just 3-8 when he doesn’t, driving home an already present point that Philadelphia is dangerous when the team’s best player is available.
It would certainly be better for the Sixers, at least in the short term, to move Simmons for players that could provide value this season. That is particularly true if Tobias Harris, the team’s No. 3 option that now serves as the No. 2 guy, continues to struggle, and he is shooting just 40 percent from the floor and 23 percent from three-point range over the last 16 outings. Tyrese Maxey and others have picked up the slack, but Philadelphia will need more support for Embiid if the organization wants to reach its potential, even in a non-Simmons world.
As of Jan. 4, FiveThirtyEight projects the Sixers to win 50 games and gives Philadelphia a 95 percent chance to make the playoffs, ranking No. 4 in the East for both projected wins and playoff odds. Given the context without Simmons, that is notably impressive, but it also leaves the Sixers in a position in which actually winning the East seems unlikely, at least relatively, and another year of Embiid’s prime is ticking away. Make no mistake, Philadelphia is still very good whenever Embiid is around, but it will be interesting to see how the next six weeks are navigated on all sides.
Where do the Sixers fall in this week’s DIME power rankings? Let’s check it out.
1. Golden State Warriors (29-7, Last week — 1st)
All the Warriors did since our last edition was beat the Jazz (without Draymond Green) and Heat. That’ll work. Golden State maintains the league’s best record and best overall profile and, even with Utah narrowly surpassing the Warriors in net rating, that head-to-head win helps.
2. Utah Jazz (27-10, Last week — 2nd)
The Jazz couldn’t pass the Warriors while losing a head-to-head battle this week, but Utah is still firmly at No. 2 here. The Jazz are 15-3 in the last 18 games with the best offense in the NBA by a hefty margin. Utah does have four straight on the road coming this week, which could be tricky.
3. Chicago Bulls (25-10, Last week — 5th)
So, DeMar DeRozan is out of his mind. The veteran knocked down game-winners in back-to-back contests this week, helping the Bulls to keep the NBA’s longest winning streak going. It may not continue at quite this level, but the Bulls are now leading the Eastern Conference and the 25-10 mark speaks for itself.
4. Phoenix Suns (29-8, Last week — 3rd)
There shouldn’t be any concern about the Suns. Phoenix is just 3-3 in the last six games, but no team was going to continue the pace the Suns were on to begin the season. They bounced back with two wins in a row to end the week, and Phoenix remains in the top-3 in both win-loss record and point differential.
5. Memphis Grizzlies (25-14, Last week — 8th)
This might seem high for the Grizzlies, but it’s not. Memphis has the longest active winning streak (six) in the West and they just beat the Cavs and Nets on the road in back-to-back games. Memphis is “only” No. 8 in the NBA in net rating, but Ja Morant is playing like a star, the Grizzlies are playing enough defense, and they have the wins to earn this perch.
6. Milwaukee Bucks (25-14, Last week — 6th)
Milwaukee might’ve been in the top-4 this week if not for a bizarre loss on Monday. The Bucks lost, at home, to the Pistons. Granted, Milwaukee basically lost the game at the three-point line, shooting 11-for-46 compared to 18-for-43 for Detroit, but that was not a result most people saw coming.
7. Philadelphia 76ers (20-16, Last week — 10th)
The Sixers might be favored in the next five games. Philadelphia faces Orlando, Houston, Charlotte, Boston, and San Antonio in that stretch and, if Embiid stays on the floor, this could set up for another jump in the standings.
8. Brooklyn Nets (23-12, Last week — 4th)
My gut tells me this is too low for the Nets, but Brooklyn has to drop after three straight home losses. Kyrie Irving is set to debut on Wednesday, though, and that should be quite the event.
9. Cleveland Cavaliers (21-17, Last week — 9th)
Cleveland is short-handed right now and it’s biting them a bit. They were within a possession or two of a nice win over Memphis on Tuesday before falling short, and the Cavs have technically dropped four of the last five. It’s too early to worry, though, and the Mobley-Garland-Allen trio continues to cook.
10. Miami Heat (23-15, Last week — 7th)
The Heat are on a two-game losing skid, but both losses were quite explainable. Instead of overanalyzing Miami’s performance, let us simply note that rookie big man Omer Yurtseven has 12 rebounds or more in nine consecutive games.
11. Dallas Mavericks (19-18, Last week — 14th)
Luka Doncic is back after missing about three weeks, and the Mavericks won the first two games after his return. Dallas has a bizarre statistical profile, but the Mavericks have a very nice measuring stick game on Wednesday when they host the Warriors in a nationally televised matchup.
12. Denver Nuggets (18-17, Last week — 11th)
It was a very quiet week for the Nuggets. Due to a postponement, Denver played only two games, split them, and lost by double figures to Dallas. That leaps the Mavericks to No. 11 and keeps the Nuggets basically right where they were.
13. Boston Celtics (18-19, Last week — 13th)
Boston needed 50 points from Jaylen Brown to secure an overtime home win over Orlando. That isn’t the best singular datapoint but it’s still a win, and the Celtics toppled the Suns before that. Knocking off Phoenix bolsters Boston’s overall profile and, even in what could be described as a maddening season, the Celtics are right in the thick of the playoff chase with a top-seven defense.
14. Los Angeles Lakers (20-19, Last week — 15th)
The Lakers are 4-1 in the last five games. Candidly, none of the wins (Houston on the road and Portland, Minnesota, Sacramento at home) are worthy of too much celebration, but they all count in the standings. LeBron James is averaging 34.3 points and 9.8 rebounds while shooting 55.4 percent over the last nine games, and he seems intent on keeping Los Angeles afloat, even if it has to be singlehandedly.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves (17-20, Last week — 17th)
The schedule has been fairly difficult for Minnesota recently, and the results haven’t been stellar as a result. The Wolves benefit from the struggles of other squads, though, and Minnesota picked up a nice road win over the Clippers on Monday. Now, Minnesota has four games in a row against Oklahoma City (twice), Houston, and New Orleans.
16. Toronto Raptors (17-17, Last week — 20th)
Toronto has been a difficult team to gauge this season, but the Raptors are playing well. Nick Nurse’s team is 8-4 in the last 12 games, posting a top-eight net rating in the NBA over that stretch. That also includes three wins in a row, and Fred VanVleet’s All-Star campaign is reaching a fever pitch.
17. New York Knicks (18-20, Last week — 16th)
The Knicks closed 2021 with a 15-point loss to the Thunder and opened 2022 with a 15-point loss to the Raptors. That isn’t fantastic but, in zooming out, New York is still 4-2 in the last six games in advance of a home-and-home set against Boston this week.
18. L.A. Clippers (19-19, Last week — 18th)
Since Paul George went down, the Clippers are just 2-4, and L.A. is 3-7 in the last 10 games. They are hanging tight in these rankings with a .500 record, but this isn’t the same team that it was a few weeks ago.
19. Washington Wizards (19-18, Last week — 22nd)
Washington and Charlotte are very similar in terms of overall profile and recent scuffles, but the Wizards won the head-to-head battle on Monday. Washington’s -2.1 net rating doesn’t quite match its win-loss record, but every time it seems as if the Wizards could nose dive, they approach the level again.
20. Charlotte Hornets (19-19, Last week — 19th)
It’s a mixed bag in Charlotte right now. The season-long profile includes the NBA’s No. 3 offense, but the Hornets are just 6-11 in the last 17 games. Charlotte is also just No. 22 in the NBA in net rating, and the Hornets close the upcoming week with three games in a row against Milwaukee and Philadelphia. That could be a revealing stretch.
21. San Antonio Spurs (14-22, Last week — 12th)
After a very nice stretch that bumped the Spurs into the top half of these rankings, San Antonio is on a four-game losing streak. The Spurs were underdogs in three of those four games, minimizing the perceived damage, but San Antonio’s 14-22 record is tough to overcome. This is a weird statistical season across the board, but the Spurs are still out-scoring opponents despite operating eight games under the .500 mark.
22. Atlanta Hawks (16-20, Last week — 24th)
It’s not going particularly well in Atlanta right now. The Hawks are 3-8 in the last 11 games amid COVID-fueled roster challenges, and president of basketball operations Travis Schlenk aired some of his frustration publicly on Tuesday. Trae Young is playing at an unreal level, headlined by a 56-point, 14-assists explosion on Monday, but the Hawks managed to lose that game in Portland, even on a night in which the Blazers were without Damian Lillard.
23. Sacramento Kings (16-23, Last week — 25th)
The Hawks and Kings get together on Wednesday in a side-by-side battle in these rankings. Can you feel the buzz?
24. Oklahoma City Thunder (13-23, Last week — 26th)
This is a sentiment already uttered in this space, but the Thunder are much better than they were “supposed” to be. Oklahoma City’s 13-23 record is well ahead of pace, and they are 5-4 in the last nine games. The losses can be very ugly, leading to the NBA’s fourth-worst net rating, but Oklahoma City’s competitiveness is nice to see.
25. Portland Trail Blazers (14-22, Last week — 27th)
Portland picked up a very strange win on Monday, with Anfernee Simons enjoying the best game of his career and the Blazers overcoming the Hawks on a night in which Trae Young was unstoppable. That victory improves the mood a bit around the Blazers, but word broke on Tuesday that Damian Lillard could be taking an extended break to deal with an abdominal issue. That would let the air out of the balloon in a hurry.
26. New Orleans Pelicans (13-25, Last week — 21st)
As far as three-game losing streaks go, the Pelicans’ current run is explainable. New Orleans lost to Milwaukee, Utah, and Phoenix this week and, well, none of that is a surprise. That isn’t the reason the Pelicans dropped a few spots, but rather a reminder that opponents are outscoring the Pelicans by five points per 100 possessions for the season.
27. Indiana Pacers (14-24, Last week — 23rd)
Only the Magic have a longer losing streak in the East than the Pacers. Indiana has dropped five in a row and, staying true to the brand, all five losses came by ten points or fewer. The Pacers are No. 17 in the NBA in net rating but just tied for No. 25 in winning percentage. What a weird half-season.
28. Detroit Pistons (7-28, Last week — 30th)
After a hideous start, Saddiq Bey has scored 20 points or more in eight of the last nine games. That isn’t the only reason Detroit is on the rise, but it helps. The Pistons have won two in a row at the time of this post, including a wild victory over Milwaukee on Monday.
29. Houston Rockets (10-28, Last week — 28th)
Houston hasn’t won since Dec. 18, and that speaks for itself. The Rockets have dropped eight in a row, including seven by double figures, and Houston is now putting pressure on the Blazers for the league’s worst defense. They’ve been respectable (7-10) at home but ghastly (3-18) on the road, and that’s tough to overcome.
30. Orlando Magic (7-31, Last week — 29th)
The Magic haven’t been in the basement for a while, but this is a clear choice. Orlando has the worst record in the league, the worst net rating in the league (-9.6) and an active six-game losing streak. Houston did give them a challenge, but Orlando had a head start.