Notebook | Aiming to Improve Against Elite Competition; Jersey Sales Spike

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Eager to Take on Elite

If it seems like we’ve been talking for a while now about the 76ers having to navigate one of the hardest schedules in the NBA, it’s because we have, and they have, too.

As of Wednesday morning, ESPN.com still had the Sixers’ 2017-2018 slate rated as the league’s strongest to-date. Indicative of this distinction is that the team is in the midst of playing its first six games of the new year against opponents currently holding playoff spots, with the last five games in the run coming against Eastern Conference foes.

Given that the Sixers sit just outside the top-8 in the standings, this stretch becomes that much more significant.

Over the past two weeks, Brett Brown’s group has managed to beat the Detroit Pistons (8th-East) and Toronto Raptors (2nd-East), while bowing to the Boston Celtics (1st-East) last Thursday in London. They get a re-match with the Celts Thursday, before hosting the Milwaukee Bucks (7th-East) Saturday evening at The Center.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Brown said of the Sixers’ January gauntlet. “It flushes out where we are.”

It also offers the Sixers a chance to do some fine-tuning while facing stiff competition.

Brown remains focused on further empowering the Sixers’ bench corps, growing Joel Embiid’s fitness base, and figuring out ways to keep the squad’s turnovers and fouls down.

“We want to try and zoom in and fix those things against the elite teams, and the elite teams are the ones that show you really where you’re vulnerable.”

Given the competitive nature of the Eastern Conference, and the Atlantic Division in particular, there figures to be little let-up in the Sixers’ schedule from now until the middle of April, when the regular season draws to a close.

“Everybody’s talking about how talented the West is, you can go right up and down the Eastern Conference - if you think you can walk into any arena in the Eastern Conference and think you’re going to get a win, you’re vastly mistaken,” Toronto head coach Dwane Casey said Monday. ”Philadelphia is a very talented team. New York (10th-East), you’re not going to walk into Madison Square Garden and get an easy win. Boston’s who they are. We’re who we are.”

Only 4.5 games separate the Sixers from the fourth-place Cleveland Cavaliers, while the first and second place teams in the East - Boston and Toronto, respectively - are divisional adversaries of the Sixers.

Once Thursday’s game at TD Garden is final, though, the Sixers will have completed their four-game series obligations against both the Cs and Raptors. They have three match-ups left with the Knicks, and all four versus the Brooklyn Nets.

Popularity of Team, Players on Rise

As if fan All-Star voting returns weren’t already telling enough indicators, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, despite being relatively green to the pros, are emerging as two of the NBA’s most popular players.

The q-rating of the 76ers’ brand in general isn’t too shabby, either.

Tuesday afternoon, the NBA released its latest jersey and merchandise sales updates, which accounted for the final quarter of 2017. For Embiid and Simmons, both vital triggers to the Sixers’ encouraging turnaround, their respective appearances inside the top-15 were firsts.

Pacing the Sixers with 23.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, while ranking 12th in the league with 18 double-doubles, Embiid claimed the NBA’s sixth-best selling jersey from October through December. Simmons’ No. 25 red, white, and blue tank was eighth on the list.

Using the chart below as evidence, the pair has clearly put itself in heady company.

The Sixers, meanwhile, have experienced an overall spike in merchandise performance as well. The organization trailed only the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers - championship finalists the past three seasons - in total sales over the final three months of previous year, breaking into the third-place spot for the first time since the 2003-2004 campaign, per the NBA.