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I know it feels like the Sixers have played the Pistons, Hornets and Nets 82 times each before even reaching Christmas, but in reality, that’s not actually the case -- they’ve only played the Pistons, Hornets and Nets 82 times *combined* before even reaching Christmas. Big difference.
That said, we have played the same teams over and over often enough to start this 2018-’19 season that I have found myself wondering what the NBA standings would look like if every team only ever faced the Sixers, and how that might bear itself out over an 82-game season. Here’s my best guess for what that would look like -- the final records for all 29 other teams in a league where every team plays the Sixers as much as they play Detroit, Charlotte and Brooklyn. (I considered predicting the Sixers’ 82-game record against themselves, but imagining the Brett Brown Incredulous Sideline Face at this concept was simply too much to stomach.)
1. Toronto Raptors: 68-14
Kawhi Leonard would probably miss at least 20 of those games, and Kyle Lowry would shoot Toronto out of seven of those. The other seven losses would require one of Embiid or Butler going off for 40-pus and the game-winner, with a Shamet or Korkmaz explosion (and some serious T.J. sideline grandstanding) off the bench to go with it.
2. Boston Celtics: 65-17
We did get one game from them in the playoffs, right? Confirmed? Presumably that means we could win a handful of others too, though each of ‘em might require a last-second lineup switch to get Brad Stevens furrowing his brow imperceptibly and at least throw different looks at their two MVP candidates Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris. You can’t stop ‘em, but you can maybe slow ‘em down a little, or at least try to get ‘em in foul trouble.
3. Golden State Warriors: 63-19
They’d probably win at least 50 of their first 55, then Steve Kerr would get bored and start playing DeMarcus Cousins at point guard or name Klay Thompson player-coach or try to really refine Steph Curry’s Dream Shake game. They’d still probably go .500 the rest of the way.
4. Milwaukee Bucks: 59-23
Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon would average a combined 16 threes a game, and Giannis would start showing up to games with T-Shirts saying SMALL-BALL FIVE? and SURROUND HIM WITH SHOOTERS? to troll Spike.
5. Brooklyn Nets: 58-24
Random injuries and late-game collapses might allow the Sixers to steal about a dozen of these. I legit have no idea where the other dozen wins come from, though -- they don’t come from letting Spencer Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell take long jumpers and hoping they’ll finally miss a couple, tell you that much. This is almost definitely an optimistic projection.
6. Los Angeles Lakers: 58-24
The Sixers beat LeBron twice in four tries last season, but I still find it close to impossible to believe they could beat him 15 times in 82 tries. He’ll probably take a three-week vacation at some point in January or February to do some hiking around Big Sur, though, and this team without LeBron is pretty woof.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder: 54-28
Every game would either be a Nerlens revenge game or a Jerami revenge game. (Or a Hollis revenge game, once they pick him up for wing depth.)
8. Orlando Magic: 47-35
Can you be a legit MVP candidate on a 47-win team if you’re not Russell Westbrook? Only Against the Sixers Nikola Vucevic is certainly due to find out.
9. Indiana Pacers: 44-38
A lot of games that end in us cursing the names of their various guards that can dribble, shoot and pass, and of us closing our eyes and covering our ears while Doug McDermott and Bojan Bogdanovic load up for their fifth and sixth threes of the game, respectively. Luckily, also a fair share of games where Thad goes 3-12 and turns the ball over six times, and where JoJo tattoos 35 on Myles Turner’s forehead, then gives him every taunt from the original Super Smash Bros.
10. Minnesota Timberwolves: 44-38
You just know that Cov will never miss a three against us for the rest of his entire career. Dario will still miss a couple because he’ll always miss a couple, but lord help us if we ever try to defend him with Korkmaz.
11. Sacramento Kings: 43-39
With the picks swapping, maybe the karma did too. I dunno, I’m still haunted by the two games they won against us last year, and that was before they were actually even good.
12. Denver Nuggets: 42-40
Jokic probably makes four threes a game while Embiid’s scowl reaches historic levels of This. Fucking. Guy. proportions. But a lot of cold shooting nights for Denver plus a lot of big scoring nights for Jimmy Butler probably pull this season series close to even, at least.
13. San Antonio Spurs: 41-41
Pop and Brett have too much respect for each other to do anything but draw here.
14. Houston Rockets: 41-41
Will openly admit I have no idea what this team’s deal is, Sixers-wise or otherwise-wise.
15. Los Angeles Clippers: 40-42
Lou Williams giveth, and Lou Williams taketh away. Besides, it sorta felt like once we actually beat the Clippers once in the Process era, they would never really be scary again.
16. Utah Jazz: 38-44
All depends on Donovan Mitchell, really -- most games he’d go 13 for 35, but some games he’d go 35 for 13. Rudy Gobert would probably foul out a lot.
17. Memphis Grizzlies: 37-45
Of course, after playing the Grizzlies 82 games, any desire to ever touch a basketball again in any capacity would have long been sapped from these Sixers, so good news for whoever would get to play us in the first round of the playoffs.
18. New Orleans Pelicans, 36-46
Jrue would average 35 points a game, and we’d get at least 23 of our 36 wins by the exact score of 128 to 126. If Anthony Davis didn’t get himself naturally injured by around game 50 of facing Embiid and the Sixers, he might take up BMX biking or something to sway the odds a little.
19. Dallas Mavericks: 34-48
It’d be an annoying 34-48, though. Feel like Wesley Matthews would shoot 68% from the field for the season.
20. Cleveland Cavaliers: 33-49
The Cavs love taking long twos, but not nearly as much as the Sixers love giving them up. Wouldn’t quite be a Nets level of “Wow, the 18th consecutive career-high scoring night for Collin Sexton!” but certainly he, Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood would each go for 40 at least twice. We’d go into every game as favorites, and we’d be convinced we were gonna lose every game by the start of the second quarter.
21. Portland Trailblazers: 32-50
Every ex Sixer terrifies me when we play them, except for Nik Stauskas and Evan Turner. Prove me wrong, kids.
22. Detroit Pistons: 30-52
Actually, 30 wins might be optimistic for Detroit, since it assumes at least twice that many games of a healthy Blake Griffin -- which, well, we’ll see. Regardless, by game 57, Andre Drummond would be in such a state of existential crisis that he’d be launching eight threes a game and routinely wandering onto the court without his shirt on for some reason.
23. Miami Heat: 28-54
We’d have to earn the great majority of those 54 wins… but, well, we would. Hassan Whiteside and his $25 million salary would get straight-up waived by All-Star break at the latest. Wayne Ellington as small-ball five!
24. Washington Wizards: 27-57
Every week or two, we’d get an “Oh look, the Wizards are actually trying tonight!” game and watch with the anthropological interest of observing a bunch of three year olds learning how to play tic tac toe on the giant playground set.
25. Atlanta Hawks: 24-58
Does Trae Young like shooting 18-footers? Hard to picture what those 24 losses would look like, but you just know it wouldn’t be as easily on a nightly basis as we’d assume. Every loss undoubtedly send the Sixers fanbase into a tailspin, too.
26. New York Knicks: 22-60
Possibly overconfident here based on our one showdown this year -- lord only knows what Tim Hardaway Jr. could do against us if we let him get loose early -- but goddamn it, there has to be one team in this stupid division that we just get to big brother all season.
27. Phoenix Suns: 20-62
They probably win something like 8 of their first 20 against us, then get hit with an injury or two, then get into a public spat or two and then rapidly lose their will to live from there. Devin Booker definitely becomes the first player in NBA history to go for 75 twice in a season and still not make the All-Star team, though.
28. Chicago Bulls: 14-68
Every night, a different Chicago Bull would improbably light the Sixers up for 32, and every night, the team would still lose by 23. If there was a single team in the league I’d dare risk calling the idea of playing 82 times “fun,” it’d have to be this one.
29. Charlotte Hornets: 11-71
And they’d still somehow have a positive scoring differential against us.