PHILADELPHIA — No matter where you turn for preseason predictions in the NBA, the pecking order at the top of the Eastern Conference food chain is pretty consistent.
Philadelphia and Milwaukee are interchangeable as the No. 1 and 2 teams in the East, with the Celtics coming in as a solid next best option for the top spot, at No. 3.
So the Sixers have every reason to feel as though their team, this season, should get the best of the Celtics more times than not.
But that in itself doesn’t make this a so-called “rivalry,” especially when you consider the main ingredient for any good rivalry is the back-and-forth between teams when it comes to winning games.
However, the only back-and-forth these two franchises have had in recent years, has been the Celtics sending the Sixers back with a loss over and over again.
Since Brad Stevens took the reins as Boston’s head coach (the same year Brett Brown became the Sixers head coach), the Celtics have amassed an impressive 18-6 record against the Sixers. And mind you, half of those losses to Philly came in Stevens’ first year when the program was at its lowest point under his watch.
But this season has all the markings of a franchise whose fortunes against Philly are about to do a 180-degree turn.
The Sixers went into the summer with a roster of talent that on many levels was comparable to what the Celtics were bringing to the table.
But that all changed when Al Horford opted out of the final year of his contract with Boston, and subsequently signed a multi-year deal with the Sixers.
The signing was a win-win for the Sixers, who not only bolstered their roster but also dealt a significant blow to one of their chief competitors in the East.
So on paper at least, Philadelphia has the kind of roster that can make Wednesday night’s game against the Celtics the first of what could be a budding rivalry.
Because as things stand now, the Sixers are certainly a team that will get the attention of Celtics Nation and many others who follow the NBA.
But a rivalry game?
That’s not what this Boston-Philly duel on Wednesday night will be about.
But if the Sixers can win a few more of these matchups, all the rivalry talk between these two franchises won’t be some nostalgic walk down memory lane.
Instead it’ll be the state of where their in-season battles stand, battles that have been lopsidedly in favor of the Boston Celtics for years that now seem on the verge of swinging in the direction of the Sixers.
So for most of Boston’s core players such as Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, there has been little proof that this “rivalry” is anything more than a matchup against one of the better teams in the NBA.
But these Celtics are smart enough to know the success they have enjoyed in the past, will have little — if any — impact on what happens when these two teams step onto that 94-by-50 foot court Wednesday night.
Regardless of what has happened in the past, Smart anticipates it’ll be a tough, physical game.
“It’s gonna be a dog fight,” Smart said. “You can’t come in looking pretty, you can’t come in scared to get hit. You gotta be ready to get in there, get your nose bloodied a little bit.”
And treat the Sixers as if they are a rival, even if their lack of success against Boston in recent years suggests otherwise.
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