76ers

Fearless Forecast for the Sixers' 2017-18 season

Fearless Forecast for the Sixers' 2017-18 season

It’s time.

The Sixers are ready to tip off their 2017-18 season, and the group has made one goal very clear: reach the postseason.

Will they be able to accomplish the feat, and if so, how will they make it happen?

The real questions will begin to be answered on Wednesday night when the Sixers open the regular season on the road against the Washington Wizards (7 p.m. on ESPN — Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. and Postgame Live after the game on NBCSP, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports App).

With that said, let’s get to our season projections from Sixers insider Jessica Camerato, anchor/reporter Marshall Harris and producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

Camerato
The Sixers finish seventh in the Eastern Conference. This was my original prediction back in the summer and it hasn't changed, even with Joel Embiid's tighter minutes restriction to start the season and the uncertainty surrounding Markelle Fultz.

The competition in the East got significantly weaker this offseason with the departures of Carmelo Anthony, Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Paul Millsap to the West. The Bulls, Pacers and, following the trade of Dwight Howard, the Hawks have seemingly dropped from playoff contention. That leaves room for three new teams to move up into the top eight.

Last season, only a .500 record was required for a playoff berth and it may be the same this time around. The Sixers have an extremely challenging schedule to start the season, but the second half is Eastern Conference-heavy. That shift should give the Sixers the opportunity to make a push after the All-Star break and lock up a spot.

Projected record: 42-40 (seventh seed)

Harris
Remember January? It wasn't that long ago. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times. The Sixers went 10-5 in their best month and showed glimpses of what they could be once the team gelled and had Embiid driving the bus as he was cleared to play 28 minutes a game. 

I see this season starting off similarly to the last one in that this team could very easily start 4-10 with 10 of its first 14 games on the road. However, with nine of 10 at home following that opening stretch, things can turn in the Sixers' favor quickly.
 
Since JJ Redick was signed, I’ve said the Sixers are a team that would win 39 games and I'm going to stick to that. I know there will be fans that believe this team is winning 40-plus or even 50 games. I just can't see it. This team will take its lumps early. The number 39 is based largely on the understanding that Embiid may not get to that 28-minute mark until December. Brett Brown has said in the past he envisions Embiid playing 35 minutes a game at some point. That point doesn't appear to be coming anytime soon.
 
The reason the Sixers can still get to 39 games without the training wheels coming off Embiid? The Sixers’ second unit is basically the starting unit that won way more games than most thought it would last year. T.J. McConnell, Dario Saric, Timothe-Luwawu Cabarrot, Fultz, Justin Anderson and Amir Johnson should make up one of the better (not to mention energized) benches in the NBA. Outside of Fultz, they've all played starters’ minutes, with McConnell and Saric showing plenty of mettle last season.
 
Of course, if Embiid can play 65 or more games and average 28 or more minutes a game, then these expectations can all rise. But let's be pragmatic. Based on what we know, who really expects Embiid to play that much? Not me. But, hey, I'm just a "receiver of information."

Projected record: 39-43 (eighth seed)

Haughton
I hear you, Sixers fans. This is the time you’ve been waiting for. 

All of the losing. All of the injuries. All of the players shuffling on and off the roster (whatever happened to what’s his name?). It’s over.

But this is the NBA and teams don’t just go from the basement to bathing in championship champagne overnight. This will be, for lack of a better word, a “process.”

Getting a healthy Embiid back on the floor was step No. 1. While he doesn’t exactly agree with his playing time to start the season, it’s crucial for him to be on the court. 

The Sixers need Embiid’s production and the attention he draws for others to thrive. That means Ben Simmons has a big man to dump the ball to down in the paint as he adjusts to being a full-time point guard, while Redick and Bayless get open looks off defensive helping/double-teams, and Fultz can ease his way into action off the bench, etc. The trickle-down effect all starts with Embiid.

But while the Sixers finally appear to be getting on the right track, their opponents having been sitting in silence. They have been working to improve as well, mainly the ones the Sixers face up to when the calendar flips to December (21 games). Of those 21 foes, 16 are playoff teams from a season ago.

I do think the Sixers overcome that uphill climb to start the new campaign and reach the playoffs, but it will be far from easy.

Projected record: 40-42 (eighth seed)

Hudrick
I see the Sixers finishing with 41 wins, which I think is good enough for them to earn the seventh seed.

The Sixers will have their struggles early on. There are so many new pieces that need to figure out how to gell. Fultz needs to get healthy and get acclimated to the NBA. Simmons needs to grow into a true NBA point guard. Embiid needs to stay healthy, of course.

With that said, the East is just so weak this season. Three playoff teams lost All-Star players. The Bulls and the Hawks will likely take significant steps backward this season.

The Sixers will get off to a slow start, but a strong finish to the season — including clinching a playoff berth — will build momentum for 2018-19 and beyond.

Projected record: 41-41 (seventh seed)

Sixers use stifling defense to blow out Trail Blazers

Sixers use stifling defense to blow out Trail Blazers

BOX SCORE

The Sixers blew out the Trail Blazers by 20 points and reached the 10-win mark, their 2015-16 total, 17 games into the season (see observations)

Still, when Brett Brown assessed their 101-81 victory, he did so with a non-complacent eye. Not getting wrapped up in a win in November keeps the team even-keeled and focused. 

“I would give us an A on defense and like a C-minus on offense,” Brown said. “We’re happy with [the record], but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

The Sixers held the Trail Blazers scoreless for the first seven minutes of the game (16-0) (see video). They notably restricted C.J. McCollum to only five points, 16 below his average. 

“I think we’re just very consistent on defense,” Ben Simmons said. 

Brown noticed room for improvement on the other end: committing less turnovers (18), finding Joel Embiid (28 points) more often, taking better-advised threes (3 for 11 in the first quarter) and minimizing possessions during which they didn’t get a shot attempt. Expect the team to focus on these areas so it doesn’t get ahead of itself for the next game on Saturday. 

“If you said you could have offense versus bad defense,” Brown said, “I would take the bad offense and have good defense any day of the week.” 

Embiid surpassing Thanksgiving milestone
Brown uses different points in the season as milestones. He eyed Thanksgiving as a checkpoint when it came to Embiid’s fitness level. Well, the holiday is here and Embiid has been averaging 32 minutes in his last five games. 

“He has exceeded my expectations to date kind of all over the place,” Brown said.

Embiid has been playing minute restriction-free. He has sat out only two games after appearing in 31 last season. Embiid is averaging 22.7 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.9 blocks and 0.8 steals in 29 minutes per game. He delivered a monster block on Damian Lillard that nearly shot the ball out of the arena. 

“Not to be cocky, but I think I’m the best defensive player in the league right now,” Embiid said.

The big man projected his fitness level is at 81 percent with room to improve. 

“It’s not all the way there but I think it’s getting better,” Embiid said. “I’ve still got to work on a lot of things, but it’s getting there. I can’t wait to be at a hundred percent.”

“We-Want-Ok-A-For” 
With a 20-point lead and the game wrapped up, the Sixers' home crowd broke out into a chant. Only it wasn’t “Trust the Process.” It was “We want Okafor.” Brett Brown didn’t nudge out of consideration to Jahlil Okafor, who has appeared in two games this season. 

“I don’t think it’s fair,” Brown said. “I think you get into a playing rhythm, a playing routine and that’s fair. To just hoist somebody a little tiny window of minutes isn’t something that interests me. I say that out of respect to him. I don’t think that puts him in a position that I want to put him in.”

Okafor is out of the Sixers’ rotation and their future plans since the team declined to exercise his player option. Okafor has made it clear he wants to be traded or bought out so he can find an opportunity to play. 

Embiid heard the chants and would like his close friend to be the court too, but at the same time gets the team’s game plan at this point. 

“I just want what’s best for him,” Embiid said. “I think he’s really good offensively. Defensively I think he’s gotten so much better, even in rebounding. I think he deserves a chance. But it’s hard. It’s business. We’ve been playing so well and I understand the coaches and the front office want to keep the same lineup because we’ve been playing so well.” 

Best of NBA: Celtics' 16-game winning streak snapped by Heat

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USA Today Images

Best of NBA: Celtics' 16-game winning streak snapped by Heat

MIAMI — Goran Dragic scored 27 points, Dion Waiters had 26 with a pair of big 3-pointers in the final minutes and the Miami Heat held on to beat Boston 104-98 on Wednesday night, snapping the Celtics' 16-game winning streak.

Tyler Johnson scored 16 points for Miami, which saw what was an 18-point lead cut to one in the final moments. The Heat shot 49 percent and outrebounded the Celtics 48-37.

Kyrie Irving scored 23 points for Boston. Jayson Tatum added 18, and Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris each had 14.

The Celtics got down by 18 in the first half, which has been a very comfortable place for Boston so far this season. Boston had overcome 18-point deficits against Oklahoma City and Charlotte, a 17-point hole against Golden State, a 16-pointer against Atlanta and rallied from 13 down to win in Dallas this week.

They almost did it again (see full recap)

Barnes' 30-footer at the horn lifts Mavs over Grizzlies
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Harrison Barnes banked in a 30-footer at the buzzer to give the Dallas Mavericks a 95-94 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night.

Officials reviewed the play to make sure the shot got off in time. Memphis suffered its sixth straight loss after squandering an 18-point lead in the first half.

Barnes led the Mavericks with 22 points, nine of them coming in the fourth quarter to help Dallas thwart a late Memphis comeback. Dennis Smith Jr. finished with 17 points, and J.J. Barea had 10 points and 11 assists.

Tyreke Evans led Memphis with 18 points, and Marc Gasol and Deyonta Davis finished with 14 points each (see full recap).

Westbrook's 34 points lead Thunder past Durant's Warriors
OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook scored a season-high 34 points and added 10 rebounds and nine assists to help the Oklahoma City Thunder roll past the Golden State Warriors, 108-91 on Wednesday night.

It was Oklahoma City's first win over the Warriors since Kevin Durant left the Thunder to join the Warriors after the 2015-16 season. Golden State won all four meetings last season by an average of nearly 20 points.

Westbrook said it was just another game in the buildup, but he didn't play like it. At one point in the third quarter, Westbrook and Durant went forehead to forehead and were called for double technicals.

Westbrook's new All-Star teammates came through. Carmelo Anthony scored 22 points and Paul George added 20 (see full recap)

Howard, Hornets rally to beat Wizards in overtime
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte Hornets keep finding ways to win at home.

Now if Dwight Howard and his teammates can figure out how to win away from Charlotte they might become a very dangerous team.

Howard had 26 points and 13 rebounds, including a key block at the end of regulation and a crucial offensive rebound in overtime, in the Hornets' 129-124 victory over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.

The Hornets improved to 7-2 at home. But they're still below .500 overall because of a 1-7 road record (see full recap)