No disrespect to the Orlando Magic, but they are unlikely to serve as a true barometer for the 76ers.
Sure, the Sixers (11-10) barely held on to avoid an embarrassing loss to the Eastern Conference’s last-place Magic on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center. But that had more to do with the Sixers’ lack of enthusiasm than anything else.
So we’ll get a better sense of their competitiveness during this upcoming four-game road trip against the Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks, and Charlotte Hornets (twice).
Those games will also conclude a tough stretch with 10 of 12 games on the road. But unlike the first six road games, the Sixers will have their full complement of players. Monday’s victory over the Magic (4-18) marked just the seventh time — and first since Oct. 30 — that the Sixers played with their opening-day starting lineup.
The Sixers will visit their Atlantic Division arch-rival Celtics on Wednesday before facing the Hawks on Friday. Then they’ll have a two-game series against the Hornets on Monday and Dec. 8 before returning home to face the Utah Jazz on Dec. 9.
The Jazz game will begin a two-game homestand against Western Conference powers, as Golden State follows on Dec. 11. But the contests at the Celtics (11-10), Hawks (11-10), and Hornets (13-10) will show how they stack up in the improved East.
“This is a great opportunity for us, playing everybody in our division and conference,” coach Doc Rivers said following Monday’s 101-96 victory over the Magic. “Good teams. So if we come and play [Wednesday] like we did tonight, we will lose the game. But I think this is a great stretch for us. Great opportunity. We got to go play.
“Boston is playing better. Charlotte is playing great. Atlanta is starting to roll. So it will be fun. We’ll see what we got.”
The Sixers are eighth in the conference standings. Despite having the same record, Boston is 11th and the Hawks are 10th. Meanwhile, the Hornets are in sixth place.
The Celtics have won four of their last five games and seven of 10 under first-year coach and former Sixers assistant Ime Udoka.
Two-time All-Star forward Jayson Tatum is 10th in the league is scoring at 24.3 points per game. He’s coming off a season-low eight points on 2-for-16 shooting against the Toronto Raptors on Monday, but Tatum had scored 30 or more points in four straight games from Nov. 17 to 22. In all, he’s scored 30-plus seven times this season. All-Star guard Jaylen Brown, who’s overcoming a hamstring strain, is averaging 22.4 points. Meanwhile, guard Marcus Smart is third in the league in steals (2.1).
Tuesday’s game will also mark the first time the Sixers will face former teammate Al Horford since he was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 8, 2020. The center is averaging 12.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.7 blocks in Boston, where he played three seasons before signing with the Sixers on July 10, 2019.
The Sixers have won the last three meetings, and seven of the last eight.
Meanwhile, the Sixers rolled over the Hawks, 122-94, back on Oct. 30, the last time they played with their opening-day starting lineup before Monday. Atlanta, however, has been one of the league’s hottest teams of late.
The Hawks had a seven-game winning streak before losing to the New York Knicks on Saturday. All-Star point guard Trae Young is fifth in the league in scoring (26.0).
The Sixers have won 14 straight meetings with the Hornets, tying the Los Angeles Clippers (vs. Orlando) for the longest current winning streak by any NBA team against a particular opponent.
But this isn’t the same old Charlotte squad. The Hornets are coming off back-to-back losses to the Houston Rockets (Saturday) and Chicago Bulls (Monday). But they were impressive while winning eight of nine games before the recent skid.
Point guard LaMelo Ball, the 2020-21 rookie of the year, and forward Miles Bridges are the main reasons for Charlotte’s success.
Ball is averaging 19.3 points, 8.2 assists, 7.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals, which ranks 10th in the NBA. Bridges, a fourth-year veteran, is averaging career-highs in points (19.8), rebounds (7.4), assists (3.2) and blocks (0.9).
With the full rotation intact, the Sixers are looking forward to seeing how they mesh on a road trip with real tests.
“I’m excited that we have more guys back, more guys healthy and more guys playing,” Danny Green said. “So I’m excited for the new challenge.”