It's officially the "off" part of the NBA off-season, which means that in a total absence of genuine Philadelphia 76ers basketball activity, we must turn to the league's schedule-makers to keep the summer's momentum going. Luckily, they've mostly obliged: News percolated through Sixers Twitter yesterday that the Liberty Ballers would be participating in a staggering 23 nationally televised games this season (14 ESPN/TNT, 9 NBA TV); pretty good when you consider that they only won five games more than that all last year.
That's cool, but it's not enough: With the preseason still nearly two months away, we need to be able to suss out more about the season to come by staring at the slate of empty canvases they'll be painting on this year. So, in that spirit, let's take a shot at answering seven questions concerning the Philadelphia 76ers in their first season with quasi-legit expectations since Year 2 of Doug Collins, just based on a glimpse of their work calendar for the next 82 games. We'll instantly disregard the seriousness of these predictions as soon as they're proven wrong, but spend till next offseason gloating about the ones that were proved even vaguely right.
1. When will the Sixers win their first game of the season?
Upon first glimpse of the Sixers' early schedule, you'll notice that there aren't a lot of gimmes to be found: At Washington, home to Boston, at Toronto, at Detroit, home to Houston. Even if you think the Sixers will mostly be good this year, with a lineup built around rookies, dudes returning from injury and both, you'd have to trust the process like Nick Young trusts his pull-up jumper to think they'll come storming out of the gate. A rough October once again seems all but destined for the Ballers, and the first W will come as a huge sigh of relief whenever it arrives.
The most obvious bet would probably be at Detroit, against a team who spent most of last year falling apart in front of a fanbase that hasn't given a damn since they traded Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson. Still, I'll go a little further on a limb and say they get it north of the border against Toronto in game three, in a feel-good win that doubles as a feel-terrible loss for a Raps team that may struggle a little to find its identity at season's outset. You can already see the controversy as Drake shows up on Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons' Instagrams after the game, can't you?
2. What will be the Sixers' first close loss that proves the young guys don't know how to win yet?
Oh, you thought we were done with this storyline this season, did you? Nahhhhhhh, until you're officially Old and Winning, you're still the kids too dumb not to lose, and any slim-margined L in which you coulda won but didn't will be blamed on some combination of the coach, the immature team leadership and the lack of old heads on the bench. (Yes, even with JJ Redick, Amir Johnson and the ghost of Andrew Bogut all in tow.)
So when'll it happen for the first time this season? Let's say Nov. 7 at Utah, a team whose well-established defensive-minded discipline and lack of offensive firepower seems custom-made to win games in frustrating fashion. Not hard to picture a scoreless final 2:30 built around a handful of Embiid turnovers and Fultz bricks, followed by a bunch of post-game columns lamenting the Sixers' lack of "their own Joe Johnson," birthing one if not several future Retweet Armageddons in the process.
3. What's the first game that Embiid will dominate in hilarious fashion?
This should quickly become the season where Embiid starts to rival Draymond Green and Giannis Antetokounmpo as King of the Funny-Good Stat Line -- games where his brilliance shines through despite himself, where he goes 4 for 15 but still scores 30, or has a triple-double with 12 turnovers. I'll say the first truly great one comes on Nov. 25 against Orlando against our old friend Nik Vucevic, where JoJo goes for 44 points and at least six blocks but grabs only four rebounds and is limited to 28 minutes due to foul trouble. Plausible, no? Just about every box score combo will be for King Process this season.
4. What's the first game where JJ Redick goes absolutely nuts?
Regardless of how his first and potentially only season for the Sixers goes on the whole, I think we can all agree that there will be, at an absolute minimum, one game this season where Jonathan Clay Redick hits seven triples in a half while JoJo does a one-man Electric Slide on the Sixers bench. Best to go with history on this one and say Dec. 19 against the Sacramento Kings, with Buddy Hield playing the role of Nik Stauskas to JJ's Klay Thompson. Maybe Nik'll even get off the bench to put the Sauce on 'em in the fourth quarter once Redick's cooled off a smidge.
5. When does the Sixers' first major win streak come?
If you thought last year's 10-5 month of January was fun -- and boy howdy, was it ever -- just wait until the Sixers rip off eight straight once they really get humming this season. Let's look at late January to early February this year, where the Sixers can take advantage of a home-leaning, East-heavy stretch to build a little forward progress and go about two weeks without losing -- before the Heat get revenge on Dario & Co. for ending their 14-game heater last season with a Valentine's Day Massacre in Philly at the end of our homestand.
6. What game does Joel Embiid tweak something, insist he's OK, go back in and end up missing the next eight weeks with some kind of vaguely termed ligament inflammation?
I WILL NOT VALIDATE THIS NAUSEATINGLY TERRIFYING QUESTION WITH A RESPONSE.
(Actual) 6. What game does Markelle look like he's finally getting his swag under him?
I do expect Fultz to go through some Evan Turner-like growing pains as he learns to adjust to the size and speed of the NBA game and figure out which of his junk legit works against pro-level competition, and which should be saved for end-of-shot-clock desperation alone. But I also expect Fultz to have some very un-ET-like breakout games partway through the Sixers' schedule, a couple nonstop highlight reels of gorgeous jumpers and did-he-just-did that moves to the basket that get Kevin Durant going extra ballistic on Twitter.
Against Boston or L.A. would be a little too poetic, so let's say it comes against Phoenix: On New Year's Eve when only the truest of Process Phaithful are even tuned in, and they end up rewarded with memories sweeter than any combination of mistletoe and Kenny G could ever provide.
7. When do the Sixers clinch a playoff spot?
April 6, at home against a largely resting Cavaliers squad. Win No. 41, on the way to 43-39 and the sixth seed. Don't be afraid to catch feels.