Brett Brown’s message after the 76ers win over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday was that there is more work to be done. The Sixers are not yet ready for the playoffs.
That might be a jarring message considering only 10 games and three weeks stand between the Sixers and their second consecutive playoff run. But, even with the small window that remains to clean up mistakes and develop chemistry, it’s important to remember that the Sixers are not unique in their last-minute preparation or concerns.
Within the last week alone, coaches and front office executives from at least half of the NBA’s playoff-bound teams have made note of their uncertainty and trepidation as the playoffs near.
“I don’t know what is going to happen when the lights go on,” Denver Nuggets president of basketball operations told reporter Chris Dempsy. “The West is so talented. Any team we play can beat us.”
The East-leading Milwaukee Bucks are dealing with blows to their impressive depth chart as both Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic are sidelined with injuries that will keep them out for the remainder of the regular season.
The Toronto Raptors face earth-shattering criticism if Kawhi Leonard can’t break their string of playoff letdowns.
Even the defending champion and title favorite Golden State Warriors are looking at the home stretch of the season as a last chance to prepare for the postseason while they battle for positioning.
“Each game takes on more importance," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said referencing the last 20 games of the season. “I think it’s going to help us prepare for the playoffs.”
The Feb. 7 trade deadline threw a little bit of a wrench in the Sixers timeline. As the team was beginning to find a rhythm with Jimmy Butler, a slew of new players entered the fray, which required a rewind of sorts.
The trade deadline and the timeline that followed are not new to the NBA and again, the Sixers are not unique in this. So while there are concerns on the part of the coaching staff and the players, they are normal. The need to cram in as much as possible in the final three weeks of the season is normal.
“We’re playing basically four guys that have been here the whole season and everybody else either joined in November or joined in February so we’re still working through some things,” JJ Redick said Friday after the Sixers practiced in Camden. “Obviously we like where we’re at. We’re 6-0 since [Joel Embiid] came back so we’re trending in the right direction.”
The Sixers are definitely content with the progress that’s been made since bringing in Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott, and James Ennis at the trade deadline, and the wins since Embiid’s return from a knee injury are also a confidence boost.
At this point, maintaining health is the biggest concern for the Sixers as they trudge through the home stretch of the regular season.
Minor fixes with defensive communication, lineup tinkering by the coaching staff, and other things the Sixers are hoping to clean up by April 13 are all secondary to the idea of heading into the playoffs with their intimidating starting lineup fully healthy, and their bench ready to jump in without hesitation.
“It’s going to come down to chemistry and us being healthy,” Harris said.