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Well goddamn, if we ever were in peak Don’t Watch the Games Season, losing by 20 to a lottery-bound Mavs team missing most of their actual players would seem to be a pretty clear indicator.
Of course, we were missing Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler, and our guys used up all their shotmaking in the Minnesota game two nights earlier (good call on that one btw), and... well, you know what? No point making excuses. It doesn’t matter. Nothing really matters at this point. The Sixers have all but clinched the three seed, sitting 5.5 games behind the Raptors and 3.5 ahead of the Celtics and Pacers with five games to go. We can freak out as much as we want to about what it means that this team can’t beat anyone shorthanded and doesn’t seem to give full effort consistently against lousy teams, or we can acknowledge that this regular season is good as over and transfer our emotional energy to hoping the Detroit Pistons win enough games to end the season to keep us from having to play the Brooklyn Nets in the playoffs.
That said, there are five games remaining on the schedule for these Sixers, and as much as the official RTRS stance might be to tune in under no circumstances whatsoever, I know I won’t be able to help myself. Here’s six things I’ll be watching for while doing so -- none of which really matter, but what does anything matter, anyway? Life’s a Process, not a destination.
1. Can the Sixers win more games this year than they did last year?
I had my heart set on 55 wins for this season, a solid 2/3 of their games and the total of my pre-season prediction. (Well, maybe not the one about them winning a million games, but that number was quickly proven optimistic). Winning 55 went out the window with the Magic loss and the announcement that Joel Embiid would be resting on this three-game road trip. But 53 wins is still at a possibility -- which would be progress from their 52-30 campaign last year, and would be a nice thing to throw in the face of those still wondering if the Sixers will be able to compete in the playoffs this year without Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova.
They’d have to go 4-1 in their five remaining contests -- which, considering Justin Jackson scored at will against them on Monday, might be something of a stretch. But two of those games are against the Bulls, who are officially in full Is-That-Even-a-Real-NBA-Player roster mode. So if the Sixers go 2-1 in their three remaining real games, we’re probably there.
2. Can the Sixers get their revenge on Lloyd Pierce?
While the rest of the Least to the East is in the midst of a heated race to the bottom, the Hawks stay playing some of their best basketball of the season -- having won four of their last six, including Ws over the Jazz, the (very shorthanded) Bucks and of course, the 76ers. That’s two in a row that our old friend Lloyd Pierce’s crew has gotten over these Sixers, and while better him than Scott Brooks or Larry Drew, we play Atlanta tonight and I’d prefer not to go into next year riding a three-game losing streak to a team barely into Stage 2 of The Process. We don’t want to turn into anyone else’s Pistons, that’s for sure.
3. Can Joel Embiid play 65 games?
An arbitrary number, perhaps, but one that I’d long set out as my personal goal for JoJo. Before the 2016-’17 season, I created the following flowchart to determine whether or not the Sixers season to follow would be a successful one:
And despite all that Brett Brown’s bunch has accomplished since 2014, based on this still-applicable flowchart, the Sixers have yet to have a successful season in the Embiid era. Would love to see that change, and to see Jo beat his personal best of 63 games in a season. But it’ll come down to the wire: He’s up to 62 games this season, with five remaining, at least one of which (tonight in Atlanta) he’s already been ruled out of. Is there any chance that Joel plays in at least three of the final four games of the season? It’s long odds, but our man has insisted on checking himself into games for reasons more arbitrary than this, so I’m not ruling out the possibility.
4. Can J.J. Redick set the Sixers record for threes in a season?
Well at this point, he sorta better. J.J. has connected on 225 triples this season, leaving him just one shy of the franchise record 226 made in a season -- set by Kyle Korver in the 2005-’06 campaign. J.J. averages over three threes a game, and has five games left this season: Redick may be prone to the occasional slump, but if he can’t get to 227 over the final five games of the season, we have much bigger problems than Korver still having bragging rights. I believe in you, Party Boy. Look forward to you setting the record this year, and then breaking it again next year on your one-year, $6 million contract.
5. Can the Sixers ruin Dwyane Wade’s final home game of the season (and hopefully boot the Heat from the playoffs in the process)?
After the ceaseless death march that has been Dwyane Wade’s final season in the pros, I think we can all agree that the playoffs will be better off without him. (Let him and LeBron catch the postseason together from the stands; it is as our Once and Always Dark Lord Sam Hinkie intended.) The Miami Heat are currently wavering on the fringes of the East playoff race -- just a half-game over their Sunshine State brethren in Orlando for the 8th seed -- and the Sixers will get their chance next Tuesday to have their say in the matter, and at Dwyane Wade’s final home game of the regular season, no less. Joel Embiid, forever a student of NBA history, will no doubt relish the opportunity to get one of the league’s all-time greats the fuck out of the paint already.
6. Shake? Zhaire? Haywood? KORKMAZ?
Don’t Watch the Games Season? Sure, but you’ll miss the best opportunity you’ll get all season to see our third-stringers -- the truest Sixers, some would argue -- finally getting some burn. When Shake Milton, Zhaire Smith and Haywood Highsmith are out there building critical early chemistry, who cares which team is responsible for it getting to garbage time? And don’t look now, but Furkan Korkmaz might finally be getting back in the mix, with Brett Brown saying he’s looking to get him ready in time to serve as a shooter from the bullpen this postseason. Cue the “Enter Sandman” and get ready to watch what should be a very interesting Sixers rotation down the stretch this season.