76ers

2020 NBA schedule: Game-by-game predictions for the Sixers

2020 NBA schedule: Game-by-game predictions for the Sixers

This NBA season has been highly unpredictable.

Looking ahead, it’s difficult to prognosticate with much confidence, given the health and safety concerns that coincide with attempting to resume a season during a pandemic.

Still, we do at least know who the Sixers are scheduled to play in their eight seeding games. As a reminder, the team is currently sixth in the Eastern Conference but could move as high as fourth.

Here’s how we imagine the final eight games shaking out: 

Aug. 1, 7 p.m. — Pacers
In their two losses this year to Indiana — both of which came without Joel Embiid — the Sixers were 12 of 62 from three-point range, including 6 for 29 on wide-open threes (20.7 percent), per NBA.com/Stats.

They shouldn’t be as reliant on outside shooting with Embiid in the lineup. Embiid has dominated Myles Turner head-to-head, and we’ll say he’s fresh, aggressive and effective in the Sixers’ first game back.

Win

Aug. 3, 8 p.m. — Spurs
The Sixers should have little trouble scoring against the Spurs’ defense, which is rated 24th in the NBA. Tobias Harris, who scored 26 points in the Sixers’ win over San Antonio on Nov. 22, seems particularly primed for a big offensive game here. The Spurs simply don’t have any wing defenders who should be able to bother him. 

Win 

Aug. 5, 4 p.m. — Wizards

Davis Bertans’ decision not to play in Orlando makes this an easier game for the Sixers, at least on paper. Without their top shooter, the Wizards will likely be very dependent on Bradley Beal, who scored 36 points on Dec. 21 in Philadelphia but may have needed to put up 50 for Washington to have a chance. The Sixers scored 125 points that night against the Wizards’ league-worst defense. 

Win 

Aug. 7, 6:30 p.m. — Magic
This is technically the closest thing the Sixers have to a road game. It would make a ton of sense if they lost it and fell to 0-3 this season against the Magic. They’ve struggled offensively vs. Orlando and also were narrowly outrebounded in both games so far. 

Loss 

Aug. 9, 6:30 p.m. — Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and the Blazers should test the Sixers’ pick-and-roll defense. Portland is among the league’s best in pick-and-roll efficiency, and the Blazers’ guards will hurt the Sixers if their drop coverage is overly conservative. 

Loss 

Aug. 11, 4:30 p.m. — Suns
Way back on Nov. 4, Al Horford had perhaps his most impressive game of the season. He scored 32 points and had five rebounds, four assists and two steals in the Sixers’ loss to Phoenix, their first defeat of the season after a 5-0 start.

Embiid (fight with Karl-Anthony Towns) and Deandre Ayton (positive test for diuretic) were both suspended for that game. Though Ayton is talented, Embiid is clearly the superior center and should give the Sixers the edge here. The matchup remains favorable for Horford, too. 

Win 

Aug. 12, 6:30 p.m. — Raptors
Toronto has a three-game edge over the Celtics and may very well have the No. 2 seed locked up by this stage. It might not make a massive difference even if the Raptors do decide to limit minutes for their top players, since they’ve handled important injuries well this year, but it could help the Sixers a bit. 

We’ll predict Matisse Thybulle plays extended minutes and shines in this one. Brett Brown was insistent before the league’s hiatus that he was developing Thybulle with a playoff role in mind, and the rookie can solidify a spot for himself over the eight seeding games. 

Win 

Aug. 14, TBD — Rockets 
Again, where each team sits in the standings will be a significant factor. Like the Sixers, the Rockets are sixth in their conference but have an opportunity to rise. 

The only meeting between the teams this year was one of Ben Simmons’ most encouraging showings as a screener and roller, as well as one of his best games overall. He had 29 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. James Harden, meanwhile, somehow recorded an even gaudier triple-double, finishing with 44 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. 

Harden is in a class of his own as an isolation scorer, and he’s been dedicated to fitness over the last few months. It will be fascinating to see how the Rockets defend Embiid without a traditional center, but they look like a dangerous team. 

Loss 

Overall seeding game record: 5-3 

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What’s in a name? Alec Burks, Trey Burke and where Sixers stand without Ben Simmons


What’s in a name? Alec Burks, Trey Burke and where Sixers stand without Ben Simmons

When Ben Simmons missed his first game of this season on Nov. 8 because of an AC joint sprain in his right shoulder, Raul Neto started and Trey Burke played 17:34 as the Sixers’ backup point guard.

Burke was waived in February and is now a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Brett Brown, however, often uses Burke’s surname when he’s talking about Alec Burks, whose addition prompted the release of Burke.

The prior sentence was likely confusing, but let's be clear: Brown knows the player who scored 22 points Friday night and closed out the Sixers’ 108-101 win over the Magic (see observations). He’s colorfully discussed Burks’ “streetball-type game” and “lightning in a bottle” potential, and he had more praise to dish out Friday. 

You just felt confident that something as simple as a spaced pick-and-roll — put Al (Horford) or (Joel Embiid) in, roll Joel, let Alec dance … it was a clean, simple environment that I thought he really was excellent in. He can get into the paint at times and just play bully ball. And he has the ability to create his own shot — he sometimes doesn’t even need a pick-and-roll. And so all of those things were part of the reason that I extended his minutes, and maybe none more importantly, I think, than his defense.

“I think he’s really taken pride in knowing the scouting report. I think he’s sitting in a stance and taking pride in not getting beat on the first or second dribble with live-dribble guys. And so the package just enabled me to play him more than I normally have been, and I think he was a major contributor to the win. He was our bell ringer tonight, and we need him doing those types of things going forward.

With Simmons sidelined by a left patella subluxation, Burks’ abilities to run a pick-and-roll and conjure offense from nothing become more valuable. In truth, though, his strengths are skills the Sixers lacked back in October. It’s why Burke — the 6-foot Allen Iverson admirer, not the 6-foot-6 University of Colorado product — held appeal as a backup point guard possibility. Many of the themes we’ve heard from Brown about instant offense and shot creation echo. 

“I think my skill set adjusts well — playing great in the pick-and-roll and I can read the defense, find open people,” Burks said. “I’m just trying to thrive in that and help the team any way I can.”

The Sixers need these traits because zero members of their original starting lineup have them. Josh Richardson, the player who comes closest to resembling that mould, shot 2 for 12 vs. the Magic and has struggled to find his spots in an offense where he’s far from the first option. The fact that Shake Milton can handle the ball, conduct a pick-and-roll and hit open shots boosted his case to start, as basic as it sounds. 

Though Burks and Milton’s minutes were staggered with the exception of an early-fourth quarter stretch, there were encouraging signs from both players individually. Milton had six points, a career-high eight assists and only one turnover in 25 minutes. Since turning it over three times in the Sixers’ seeding game opener, he has two turnovers in 78 minutes. 

“With Shake, he’s going to continue to figure it out,” Horford said. “Obviously we all haven’t played together, and that makes a difference. He continues to feel it out, he continues to understand how he needs to play. And he was good tonight. He was solid, making the right plays … not turning the ball over. 

“And then Alec, he just has the ability to score in bunches, and we need that. We just need to continue to keep him involved and put him in positions where he can help us.”

Horford started Friday alongside Milton, as he’d done on March 11 in the Sixers’ final game before the NBA’s hiatus. He played well, posting 21 points and nine rebounds, and adding a physicality that Brown appreciated. 

Despite the aforementioned positives, the Sixers trailed the 32-38 Magic by two points after three quarters. Competent ball handling and shotmaking in Simmons’ absence is necessary, but it's fair to be skeptical about whether that would be enough in the playoffs against a team like the Celtics or Bucks. After all, none of the Sixers’ three wins at Disney World have been comfortable or against top-tier opposition. 

“It’s hard to replace Ben,” Horford said. “He does a lot for our group. The way that we’re looking at it is we all just have to step up a little more. It’s going to give opportunities to guys from the bench and other guys to come in to have an impact. We really don’t know. We don’t know, we just hope that he’s able to get healthy and get healthy quickly.”



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Sixers Talk podcast: Alec Burks is earning more minutes

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Sixers Talk podcast: Alec Burks is earning more minutes

On this edition of the Sixers Talk podcast, Danny Pommells, Paul Hudrick and Ben Berry discuss:

(1:11) — The Sixers' play in the bubble doesn't leave us with any confidence.
(5:45) — Embiid, Simmons and Horford do not fit together.
(11:45) — Should Alec Burks be higher in the rotation?
(20:55) — Josh Richardson looks out of sorts.
(24:04) — Draymond Green critical of Joel Embiid's play.
(33:40) — The reasons to be optimistic are shrinking.

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