bradley beal

Sixers will find plenty of challengers in attempt to take over Eastern Conference

Sixers will find plenty of challengers in attempt to take over Eastern Conference

“Run it back.”

After striking out on the big fish in free agency, the Sixers essentially appear to be going this route for next season.

They have reportedly agreed to a one-year deal to bring back JJ Redick and a trade for Denver Nuggets swingman Wilson Chandler to help offset the departures of bench standouts Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova. A little juggling to add a reserve center, and you will be looking at your 2018-19 Philadelphia 76ers (barring a blockbuster deal for Kawhi Leonard, in which case all bets are off).

And there’s no reason to believe that won’t be enough to take another leap next season. Think about it, from a personal standpoint the Sixers had Joel Embiid be named a starter in the All-Star Game and finish as the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year. Despite all of the noise, Ben Simmons snagged Rookie of the Year in a landslide. Plus, the team had Robert Covington (first) and Embiid (second) each be named to All-NBA defensive teams.

All of those individual accolades helped propel the team to a 52-win campaign (24 more than the previous season), a playoff berth for the first time in six seasons and a first-round series victory.

With that level of production under their belt, there is no reason to believe the Sixers won’t continue climbing up the Eastern Conference ranks.

Just don’t think it will be easy.

Even with LeBron James’ exodus to the West, the Sixers’ path to the NBA Finals won’t all of the sudden become a cakewalk. Some other squads will have a say about that, starting at the top.

Toronto may have ditched its head coach, but the Raptors appear to be sticking with the core that won a franchise-record 59 games last season. That group beat the Sixers in three of the four regular-season meetings by an average of 18.3 points.

Of course, the Boston Celtics had the Sixers’ number all season long. Between the preseason, regular season and playoffs, the C’s won nine of the 11 matchups by an average of 9.2 points. Plus, you’ve likely heard they’ll be getting a couple All-Stars back in the lineup come next season in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

Even the teams a step below have reason for hope. The Indiana Pacers have faith in their own young core led by Most Improved Player Victor Oladipo. The Milwaukee Bucks have one of the game’s best players in Giannis Antetokounmpo and boosted their bench by swiping Ilyasova from the Sixers and drafting Villanova standout Donte DiVincenzo. The Washington Wizards (John Wall, Bradley Beal) and Detroit Pistons (Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond) have prolific tandems that could cause trouble for anyone.

It’s all wide open in the East now that the King’s throne has shifted to Hollywood. And the Sixers have to feel as good as any team about being able to secure the crown, but it definitely won’t be an easy task.

More on the Sixers

Our NBA All-Star challenge — describe Embiid in one word

Our NBA All-Star challenge — describe Embiid in one word

LOS ANGELES —  From trash talking on the court to expressing himself on social media, Joel Embiid is a player of many (many) words. So if his fellow All-Stars had to describe him in just one, what would it be? 

Draymond Green: "'Funny.' He's hilarious. The stuff he says, he goes on TV talking about (Kevin Durant's) burner account, he's talking how he's a savage. His Instagram locations, pretty funny. He's a good guy." 

Andre Drummond: "I’d probably say 'charismatic,' 'funny,' 'savage.' He don’t care, he just does what he wants to.”

Paul George: “Personality,' in all caps."

(Why all caps?)

“Because he’s a big dude.”

John Wall: "He's just 'himself.' He's very confident."

Anthony Davis: “'Savage.' Cool dude, he lives by his own rules. He’s just enjoying life and having fun.”

Jimmy Butler: "'Remarkable' in the fact that his game on the court is insane. Then the way he's always saying something to somebody on social media is really 'remarkable.'"

Bradley Beal: “'Wild.' He has no filter, he doesn’t care. That’s my boy, but he just has no remorse, doesn’t care."

LaMarcus Aldridge: “'Entertaining,' because he’s always on TV expressing how he feels. So, entertaining.”

Sixers pull out the fire extinguishers at home

Sixers pull out the fire extinguishers at home

BOX SCORE

The Sixers snapped the Wizards’ five-game winning streak Tuesday with a 115-102 victory. 

The Wizards had been playing surprisingly well in the absence of All-Star guard John Wall, who underwent arthroscopic left knee surgery at the end of January. That was until they came to the Wells Fargo Center.

Bradley Beal's 30 points, seven rebounds and five assists were not enough to counter a 27-point, 12-rebound double-double from Joel Embiid and another 20 points and seven boards from Dario Saric. Embiid reached 20 points for the 30th time this season.

“You just beat a team that was hot,” Brett Brown said. “They'd won five games in a row, their style of play when you study them during that five-game stretch was really impressive. They shared the ball, they ran with great pace and they guarded.”

• The Sixers sprinted out to an early first-quarter lead as Wizards not named Otto Porter Jr. and Markieff Morris struggled to score. The opening quarter included an alley-oop from T.J. McConnell to Jerryd Bayless and threes by McConnell and Amir Johnson.

• There were more third-quarter ups and downs. The Sixers committed turnovers on three consecutive possessions in the third. During that quarter, the Wizards, led by 11 points from Beal, cut the Sixers’ lead from 19 to seven. The Sixers committed 17 turnovers (leading to 22 Wizards’ points) on the night.

“We just wanted to come out and be aggressive, especially after the bad one we had against Indiana,” Embiid said. “We just wanted to be aggressive, especially defensively.”

• The Wizards didn’t go away in the fourth. They got within eight with four minutes to play. The Sixers pulled away on a 10-3 run to hold on for the game in which they led by as many as 22 points. 

• The Sixers have the rare opportunity to play five straight home games leading up to the All-Star break. The team is focused on maximizing the rare schedule, especially as it faces Eastern Conference competitors Wizards and Heat. 

“Coach talked about that,” Saric said. “After we finished with the meeting, he put on the screen, 'Four more, guys.' It's important in that situation. Playing four games at home in front of our fans, in front of the crazy energy from the Super Bowl. We need it, we need it. We really need to be focused for the four games and try to win. I think if we win before [the All-Star break], we get better as we go on and be ready for the last part of the season.”

• The Super Bowl champions were in the building. Members of the Eagles' offensive line rang the ceremonial bell to kick off the game.