Danny Pommells

A team will rise from the NBA chaos — why not the Sixers?

A team will rise from the NBA chaos — why not the Sixers?

Plucking a quote from one of the most despicable characters in 21st century television isn't my customary method of persuasive writing, but …

"Chaos is a ladder," Petyr Baelish said.

The guy has a point. Amid the rubble of the stalled NBA season an opportunity has arisen. 

At 39-26, the Sixers have limped to an inauspicious spot as the sixth-best team in the East. Whether the eight games they have left before the playoffs changes their seeding or not, this unanticipated sprint to the NBA title following an abrupt four-month layoff could benefit the Sixers.

Back in March when the season was first put on ice, Sixers fans weren't sure when a nerve impingement in Ben Simmons' lower back would allow him to play again. Some very convincing Instagram videos and more than four months since his last game has seemingly allowed him to heal and squelched concerns about a lingering injury.

Joel Embiid was nursing a banged-up shoulder which has had the same time to mend. When Alaa Abdelnaby joined us on the latest Sixers Talk podcast, he said he heard Embiid is working out six days a week. So, forget about the quarantine 15 for “The Process” and the obligatory conditioning conjecture that goes with it.

The Sixers top two players are healthy and conceivably the rest of the roster is as well — save the bedeviled Zhaire Smith — all benefitting from the extra healing time the layoff provided. A lack of health is one reason for the team's lack of chemistry this season. It’s a point Tobias Harris acknowledged as a source for the team's struggles and inconsistencies on a recent television appearance.

For my money, although it may not seem like much, grabbing Ryan Broekhoff and throwing him into the mix was a sound move as well. He helps to increase the healthy competition for minutes among a bench where playing time will be hard to come by if you don't have a defined role.

The Sixers are expected to be in Orlando and enter the NBA bubble on July 9, with the playoffs wrapping on or before Oct. 13. The marathon that was the NBA campaign is over. Following the coronavirus shutdown, 22 teams are now poised to try to race to the finish of a season which could be the most challenging ever, all things considered. 

Charles Barkley endorsed the Sixers’ talent by saying he thinks they have the best two players on the floor, in Simmons and Embiid, against any Eastern Conference foe except Milwaukee. Talent will take them far in this resurrected season, but a test of their minds and wills is likely where the most intense battles will be fought in the months to come.

If this team is really built for the playoffs, as GM Elton Brand proclaimed before an assembled room of players and media before the season, the gauntlet of the NBA bubble will reveal the truth like a soothsayer's decree. Chaos could surely be a ladder for the team who galvanizes quickly in this nouveau world of no fans and neutral sites.

Why can’t the Sixers be that team?

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More on the Sixers

Why the 1980s Celtics are the ultimate Sixers Villains

Why the 1980s Celtics are the ultimate Sixers Villains

All week at NBC Sports Philadelphia, we're debating the biggest villains in Philly sports history. Today, we look at the Sixers. You can vote here

I have to be honest: Writing this was painful. Peeling back the layers of Sixers villainy was like stubbing your toe against your bedpost while pouring hot sauce in your eye. Not fun. 

Staring down the terror that was the '80s Celtics, the genesis of my personal childhood sports hatred, was twice as bad.

Maybe it was those stupid green uniforms or their overbearing history and mystique? Maybe it was the fact the two blue-collar cities, Philly and Boston, share a lot of similarities? Even simpler, these guys were plain good — oftentimes just as good, if not better than the Sixers — and that's where the angst and apprehension begins. 

The disdain reached a crescendo in 1981. See, in the early '80s, the Sixers were close to being the Buffalo Bills of the NBA — always the bridesmaid, never the bride. When the franchise finally won it all in 1983, it was their fourth trip to the Finals since 1977. 

Now, in 1981, the Sixers were again heavy favorites to win the East and played like it, jumping out to a 3-1 lead against Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals. Boston pulled off the improbable and won three straight games by a total of five points. The Celtics won the series and went on to win the NBA title in 1981 before the uber-talented Sixers could deliver in the big game. 

In fact, when you take the 30,000-foot view of '80s NBA basketball, the SIxers' 1983 title was a glorious, long overdue sweep of the breathtaking Showtime Lakers, but in actuality, it amounted to just a blip between the eight combined titles the Lakers and Celtics won during the decade.

This comparison against the '80s Celtics is a lot less a rivalry and much more an inferiority complex. The Sixers just weren't as good as Boston. They wanted to be and flat-out should have been, but they were not. Philly had arguably the best player on the planet in Julius Erving but couldn't break through until Moses Malone gave them the extra presence they needed in 1983. 

History tells us that surrounding stars with the proper supporting cast hasn't been an organizational strong suit for the Sixers. Meanwhile, the Celtics drafted Larry Bird and he led them to three titles in seven seasons. 

All the same, this matchup had some all-time storylines. I didn't even mention the myriad fist fights between the teams, Dr. J pummeling Bird with his hand clasped around his throat, the “Beat L.A.” chants or the player with one of the greatest nicknames in sports — “The Boston Strangler," aka Andrew Toney. 

Hating the Celtics was once a pseudo-birthright for Philly sports fans. After all the emotion this article stirred up, I think I need to go talk to my son and daughter to make sure their sports hatred is in the rightful place.

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Florida Gulf Coast's massive NCAA Tournament upset in Philly was the Best Game I Ever Saw Live

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Florida Gulf Coast's massive NCAA Tournament upset in Philly was the Best Game I Ever Saw Live

I'll be honest. My North Philadelphia roots didn't make room for a lot of in-person sporting events. So as an adult, getting to the games was a must and the NCAA Tournament was always high on the list. Every March, I rooted for the Philly teams and the players I loved. So when the tournament came to Wells Fargo Center in March of 2013, I was all in. 

Thanks to Florida Gulf Coast University I got the complete and full embodiment of March Madness and then some.

The WFC has seen a ton of great basketball, from Allen Iverson's ear cupped encores to the frenzied success of Villanova's second home in South Philly. 

I guarantee you it was never wilder there than when this bracket-busting 15-seed had fans mobbing them in the hallway after an upset over Georgetown.

FGCU had all the swagger of James Brown in a fresh jumpsuit taking the court against the Hoyas. I had no idea what I was about to see.

They called themselves "Dunk City" and by the time the game was over, Georgetown was also calling them Daddy. I actually had Georgetown going to the Final Four in my personal tournament bracket, which as a 2-seed was a pretty mundane pick. That may also explain some of the bitter feelings I have thinking back on the cocktail of emotions I experienced as FGCU turned my "sheet of integrity" into liner for my cats' litter box. 

I'll never forget how those blue and green uniforms flew up and down the court, dunk after dunk. But it wasn't just the fact that they were dunking or hitting important shots, it was the way they were doing it. There were alley-oops, back-door slams, tip dunks, chin-ups on the rim. There were heat check three-pointers from Conshohocken, catch-and-shoot, in-your-face threes. The FGCU Eagles were talking trash and backing it up, the whole. nine. yards.

These kids absolutely knew they could beat Georgetown and then went out and did it with as much bravado and moxie as if destiny owed them a favor. When the weekend was over, I guess it did. They beat San Diego State to reach the Sweet 16. The only 15-seed to ever do it.

For a city that loves a good underdog, this was Vince Papale and Rudy with a little Bad News Bears on the side. Unbelievable. Happy to say I was in the building for a flat-out epic NCAA Tournament game which brought the captivating theater of the unexpected right into my lap.