As Competition Stiffens, What to Make of Upcoming Games

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

We’ve asked about it.

The 76ers have talked about it.

Now, it’s finally on the team’s doorstep.

Starting with Thursday’s nationally-televised match-up against the Indiana Pacers, the Sixers will step into what JJ Redick recently dubbed a “daunting” gauntlet.

By all indicators, the portion of the schedule immediately in front of the Sixers will pack a punch, not just in terms of caliber of opponent, but travel demands as well.

Each of the Sixers’ next 12 games comes against a club currently holding a winning record. All but two of these teams would qualify for the playoffs if the season were to end today.

The exceptions, the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings, are 0.5 game and 1.0 game out of eighth-place, respectively, in the Western Conference standings.

Making this stretch potentially even more tricky is that for the second time since Christmas, the Sixers will be trekking across the country.

So, yeah, these five weeks before the All-Star break, at least on paper, figure to be challenging.

But how much weight, exactly, should be placed on this isolated chunk of the Sixers’ slate?

Jimmy Butler has some thoughts.

The way the veteran sees it, the relevance of these games will ultimately be dictated by what happens afterwards.

“The next 12 games?,” Butler said Tuesday, when posed the question following the Sixers’ convincing win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

He then provided a tongue-in-cheek, yet pragmatic response.

“Hypothetically speaking, let’s say we go 12-0, but then we lose the next 24…”

While a bit extreme, Butler’s point was noted.

“I think the next 12 [games] are against some really good teams, but if we go 12-0 there, then lose the next 24...you can’t overlook [anybody].”

That the Sixers remain a work in progress, despite having the sixth-best winning percentage in the NBA, is a status Brett Brown embraces. Last game, for instance, he tweaked his rotation, playing Butler and Joel Embiid together more, while dividing Wilson Chandler’s time evenly between the three and four positions.  

More than anything else, the proposition of continuing to refine the Sixers’ roster sounds like it energizes Brown.

He and his staff have long had this clump of games on their radar.

“It’s true, we’ve got some heavyweights, but so be it,” Brown said before Tuesday’s encouraging 42-point win. “I truly do believe that water rises to its level. We’ll see a little bit more as these next few weeks unfold.”

Big picture, the (presumed) increase in difficulty in the Sixers’ schedule could actually be coming at a good time. The league’s 10-day contract period is now underway, and the trade and contract buyout deadlines loom on the horizon.

The Sixers’ upcoming stretch certainly won’t be an end-all, be-all, but it will likely provide key context clues.

“We’re going to go do our job,” said Brown. “I’ve got faith in the people around me that we’re going to find a way to grow this thing as we should.”

Here’s a rundown of the teams the Sixers face between now and the All-Star Game break:

• Thursday, 1/17 @ Indiana (29-14, 3rd-EC)

• Saturday, 1/19 vs Oklahoma City (26-17, 3rd-WC)

• Monday, 1/21 vs Houston (25-19, 5th-WC)

• Wednesday, 1/23 vs San Antonio (26-20, 6th-WC)

• Saturday, 1/26 @ Denver (29-14, 2nd-WC)

• Tuesday, 1/29 @ Los Angeles Lakers (24-21, 9th-WC)

• Thursday, 1/31 @ Golden State (31-14, 1st-WC)

• Saturday, 2/2 vs Sacramento (23-21, 10th-WC)

• Tuesday, 2/5 vs Toronto (33-13, 2nd-EC)

• Friday, 2/8 vs Denver (29-14, 2nd-WC)

• Sunday, 2/10 vs Los Angeles Lakers (24-21, 9th-WC)

• Tuesday, 2/12 vs Boston (26-18, 5th-EC)

• Wednesday, 2/13 vs New York (10-33, 13th-EC)

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