Is Going 82-0 Really So Much to Ask For?
Are we emotionally equipped to handle Sixers losses?
Andrew Unterberger is a famous writer who invented the nickname 'Sauce Castillo' and is now writing for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez, as part of the 'If Not, Pick Will Convey As Two Second-Rounders' section of the site. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AUGetoffmygold and can also read him at Billboard.
Andrew's writing is brought to you by Kinetic Skateboarding! Not only the Ricky's approved skate shop, but the best place to get Chucks, Vans, any apparel. Use code "DAVESILVER" for 9.1% off your order.
I think it’s safe to say that we might have underestimated how much of an adjustment it is to play an entire regular season with championship expectations. Four years ago the Philadelphia 76ers were the living embodiment of “If you can’t spot the winnable game on your upcoming schedule, that means you’re the winnable game.” Now it looks like going anything short of 82-0 is a disappointment, as judged by the fact that it appears every tally added to the loss column will end up being a referendum on What’s Wrong With the Sixers.
So what is wrong with the Sixers? A brief recap: Tobias Harris won’t shoot from three, Mathisse Thybulle can’t shoot from three, Ben Simmons won’t shoot from anywhere, Josh Richardson shoots too hard from everywhere, Joel Embiid struggles against different looks in the post, Al Horford’s touch runs hot and cold, Furkan Korkmaz can’t defend his position, wriggly scoring guards are eating the entire team alive again, there’s no go-to perimeter playmaker for the end of games, Zhaire Smith is languishing in Delaware, Markelle Fultz is starting in Orlando, and we’re not sure what Brett Brown is doing wrong yet but we’re sure he’s a jerk. There’s plenty of finger-pointing to go around, and Process trusters already seem to be wearing their phalanges out doing so.
Alternative: The Sixers are 5-2 through a difficult, road-heavy start to the season, with the two losses coming by a combined seven points and only one of those seven games featuring both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons being healthy and active for the entire contest. If you explained to a Sixers fan before the season that Embiid would miss the times that he has, that the Sixers’ offensive cohesion would go through the early bumps it has, that they wouldn’t face a team with a losing record through their first seven games, and that they’d still be 5-2 through those seven… well, they’d still probably be bummed about the two, and I guess that’s the real problem here.
Basketball’s kind of a weird sport in that respect. Unlike in baseball, where you can be historically great winning 2 out of every 3, it feels like in the NBA, the better team should win pretty much every time — but unlike in football, where winning every time is actually a thing that has happened, in the NBA even the most dominant teams usually have to still take it on the chin 15-20 times a season. Remember how earlier in the season… I wanna say Amos?... made the trenchant observation early in the season that if Joel Embiid was going to have to miss 20 games this season, that meant he was going to actually miss 20 games this season? Well, if Philly is going to go, say, 60-22, that means at least 22 rounds of What’s Wrong With the Sixers? following a basketball game this season.
Which isn’t to say that there isn’t actually anything Wrong With the Sixers right now. That list a couple paragraphs up might be slightly exaggerated or besides the point with some items, but it’s hardly a fabrication. Shooting on this team is a big roster-wide problem, and will likely remain as such. The perimeter execution and spacing issues aren’t going to magically fix themselves. Al Horford and Mathisse Thybulle will both have games where they show their respective ages. They’re one two-way wing short in their rotation. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons will find their way out of games. Devin Booker and Damian Lillard will never not go for at least 30 against them.
But none of this is a surprise, really. We knew shooting and shot creation would be a struggle all year. We knew the offensive fit would take time and likely never be totally perfect. We actively demanded that Embiid miss games here and there. There’s things to look to improve, for sure, but this was all part of the deal for having a stacked team of beefy, defense-first tormentors, a team that has toughness in greater supply than finesse, a team with Al Horford on the roster for some reason. It was going to look bad even when it went good. And when it looks bad and goes bad, it’ll trigger the imposter syndrome Sixers fans are wired to feel from countless past fake contenders, and lead to all sorts of fight-or-flight overreaction to problems that are only sort of real concerns in the first place.
So does this mean that Sixers fans need to learn to lose as winners better? Probably. Either that or the Sixers need to learn to not lose at any time for any reason, even understandable ones — we’d still find things to freak out about, but at least it would probably stay just south of apocalyptic. 82-0 currently might be out of reach, but 80-2 is still eminently attainable. Check the upcoming schedule if you don’t believe me: Win in Denver and this team might simply never lose again. Sounds nice. Sounds easy.