Sixers

Sixers Can’t Sleepwalk Into the Playoffs Like the Rest

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The Philadelphia 76ers are the only Eastern Conference contender for whom the regular season matters.

Championship hopefuls out East like Brooklyn, Milwaukee and even Boston or Miami have earned what Philly hasn’t– the benefit of the doubt.

Philadelphia doesn’t have the luxury of turning in a lackadaisical regular season in the same way their contemporaries do. Despite a successful season, their record feels hollow knowing that everyone else’s approach to the regular season is diluted.

The NBA schedule is like a school year, the regular season is summer break and playoffs are the start of classes. Teams have months to rehab and experiment before coming back to class to buckle down and perform. The Bucks, Nets, Celtics and Heat have earned their Summer vacation; the 76ers, however, are still in summer school.

Brooklyn Nets

When Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving signed with Brooklyn, they were an instant title favourite.

No one favoured Brooklyn because of depth and defense, however. Brooklyn’s chances always hinged on their offensive artillery and capability. As talented as KD and Kyrie are, they aren’t that durable, having played 26 and 46 games respectively this season.

They’re not a team that’s built to withstand a marathon– they’re built to annihilate opponents in a sprint. The Nets have always been a “flip-the-switch” team. When necessary, they can line up one of the best offensive weapons of the modern era next to one of the best offensive weapons of all time, while they wait for their third generational talent to return.

It’s a team that’s too busy polishing MVP trophies, championship rings, and bruised joints to be bothered about regular-season games.

Milwaukee Bucks

The current era of the Milwaukee Bucks begins and ends with Giannis. He’s one of the few players in the league for whom the regular season simply doesn’t matter. Coming off back-to-back MVPs, and a DPOY award, Giannis, and therefore the Bucks have almost nothing left to prove, nor strive for in the regular season.

It doesn’t matter how many games they win, or how many awards Antetokounmpo accumulates if every season is spoiled by a premature playoff exit.

The Bucks have terraformed their franchise to the needs of Giannis, a player for whom the standard is a title. Therefore, as long as Giannis is the franchise, the regular season will remain a forgettable nuisance in the pursuit of a greater goal.

Miami Heat

The Heat earned their contender status last season when they proved they could go toe-to-toe with anyone. They’re a team built for playoff tempo, not awards consideration. Having overachieved last season, they started this year with both championship pedigree and anonymity. They get to be considered a contender without having their woes examined under a microscope.

Few are expecting Miami to win the championship, but they’re still viewed as a tough out for any matchup. They’ve proved that their only prerequisite for title shot is simply making the playoffs. Jimmy Butler literally said as much, “We get there, us as a team, I’ll handle the rest.” The Heat only need to get inside the party– once they’re in, it’s almost impossible to get them to leave.

Boston Celtics

The Celtics are a curious case. Boston entered this season with high hopes, coming off two conference finals in three years, coupled with dual all-stars. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are talented enough for the Celtics to be considered contenders despite an underwhelming supporting cast.

Their disappointing season has thus far removed a lot of the glossy sheen Boston had way back in December. However, Boston’s mediocrity works in its favor. The regular season doesn’t really matter for them because their expectations have worn off, yet the talent they possess allows them to retain their status as contenders.

Philadelphia 76ers

Despite having witnessed ‘The Process’ blossom, the Sixers have still endured three years of painful playoff exits.

Philly still needs to prove to their front office, their fans, the league and themselves that they’re a sustainable unit. Joel Embiid needs to prove he can stay in shape. Ben Simmons needs to prove his style of point play can work. They both need to prove they can flourish together. The front office needs to prove they can create a cohesive roster, and that roster needs to prove its resilience.

The 76ers don’t have any laurels, accolades nor recent success upon which to rest. They can’t tout MVP trophies, they haven’t made a conference final in recent memory, and they aren’t given the luxury of being able to “turn it on” when the playoffs start.

The Bucks, Nets, Heat and Celtics can treat the regular season as the coming attractions before the movie starts. The Philadelphia 76ers, however, have to treat their season and post-season like a double-feature. They haven’t proven that they can sleepwalk into the playoffs and still be effective.

They don’t just need to be awake for round one, they need to have been up for hours after a full breakfast and a cup of coffee. It’s a little frustrating when it feels like all the other kids get to go play outside at recess while Philly has to stay inside and do extra work, but frustration is just part of the Sixers experience.

Follow us on Twitter @SixersLead for the latest 76ers news and insight. 

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