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Sixers' Christmas Day matchup vs. Celtics kickstarts difficult five-game road trip

After a trip to Boston, the Sixers take off for games against Utah, Portland, Los Angeles and Phoenix. They don't play at home again until Jan. 5.

Joel Embiid are coming off a win against the Raptors, but they'll face a tough stretch of road games next.
Joel Embiid are coming off a win against the Raptors, but they'll face a tough stretch of road games next.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer / YONG KIM / Staff Photographer

The 76ers begin a five-game road trip in Boston on Tuesday, which will kick start a grueling schedule and test the team in the new year.

Though the Sixers have the best home record in the league at 16-3, they’ve struggled on the road (6-9). From Dec. 25 to Feb. 2, the Sixers will play 12 of their 19 games away from Wells Fargo Center.

“All you have to do is look at what happens starting tonight,” Brett Brown said before the Sixers' 126-101 home win over the Toronto Raptors on Saturday. “As a team, we have a gift exchange tomorrow and then we all fly the following day to play the Boston Celtics in the Boston Garden, and everybody gets our memories of playing them recently in the playoffs and the first game on opening night. Then you hit the road with the team and we’re all together and then you jump into the road trip and you see who we’re playing over there.”

After the Christmas Day game in Boston, the Sixers will visit the Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns, before returning to play their first home game of 2019 against the Dallas Mavericks on Jan. 5.

The Blazers and Clippers are two of the six top teams in the West, and though the Jazz and Suns have struggled this season, they’ve put together wins against some of the NBA’s better teams recently. Most notably, the Jazz beat the Golden State Warriors on Dec. 19, and the Suns strung together a four-game winning streak that included a win over the Celtics in Boston. Additionally, the Sixers will be playing in Phoenix on the second night of a back-to-back after playing the Clippers on Jan. 1.

“But take it a bit further and look at the month of January,” Brown said. “It is real and it’s just the way it should be. We love it. We want this. We hope we can extract as much health to perform against that schedule as possible.”

The Sixers will have another back-to-back sequence on Jan. 8 and 9 against the Washington Wizards both nights, first home then away, before bouncing around between home and away games.

After a three-game homestand against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, and San Antonio Spurs that ends on Jan. 23, the Sixers will head out on another long road trip in which they’ll face four of the Western Conference’s top teams, including the West-leading Denver Nuggets (Jan. 26) and the reigning NBA champion Warriors (Jan. 31).

“It’s a tough part of the schedule, I’m glad [Brown] is looking forward to it,” Sixers general manager Elton Brand said with a laugh. “I know most of our needs, but I want to see how the bench and our young players are developing. Can we play with some of these teams that are elite, these West Coast teams, on the road? It’s a huge stretch for us right now."

Brown echoed Brand’s comments, saying that the upcoming schedule, more than anything else, will give the Sixers an even better idea of where they stand, what they need, what their strengths are, and areas that still need improvement.

In addition to evaluation, Brown is looking forward to getting more intricate with the Sixers' defense and continuing to integrate Jimmy Butler.

“We’re coming into a really great part of our year. It’s starting to get into a real interesting part in that you’re playing against really, really good teams,” Brown said. “I think that will let your judgment, our judgment, of how we’ve got to coach it, where are we realistically, be more clearly determined. For that simple reason, you love it. That’s what this time of year, especially the schedule that we’re playing this time of the year, does for me.”

It all starts Tuesday against the Celtics team that ended the Sixers' playoff run last season.