Don’t mistake the headline and assume I’m about to be “Debbie Downer” or Mr. Negativity.
In fact, what you’re about to read is actually extreme optimism meshed with high standards.
There’s an infectious energy at Wells Fargo Center during Sixers games that was non existent for basically a decade and a half.
Tickets to “The House That Iverson Owned” were able to be purchased for less than $10 via the secondary market less than five years ago.
Today, good luck finding a decent seat at around $100 for upcoming Game 1 against the Miami Heat. And the longer this season goes, that lowest ticket price will continue to sky rocket. 76ers games are once again hot commodities, as they should be.
The 2017-18 76ers were supposed to finish around 40 wins, give or take, and compete for a playoff spot. Instead, their regular season record was 52-30, good for third place in the Eastern Conference.
This is a fun, entertaining and exciting season that Sixers fans, “Hinkie-ites” or not, deserve.
But, let’s not sugarcoat what we’re witnessing and lower the bar because regular season expectations were exceeded.
Inexperience is the Sixers biggest weakness, but that shouldn’t be an excuse if the Heat, Celtics or Bucks bounce the 76ers before the Eastern Conference Finals.
With the injury to Kyrie Irving, and as long as Joel Embiid returns sooner rather than later, there’s no reason the Sixers shouldn’t be competing for a trip to the NBA Finals, and anything less is failing to reach their full potential for this season.
With stars like Embiid and Ben Simmons, along with the talents of Dario Saric and Markelle Fultz providing a spark off the bench, talent can out weight lack of experience, which is made up by veterans such as J.J. Redick, Amir Johnson, Ersan Ilyasova, Marco Belinelli and the most important person of all, Brett Brown, who spent a long time winning championships with the San Antonio Spurs.
On paper, the Sixers are the most gifted, skilled team in the East. They defend, they’re fast, can shoot and are versatile.
Simmons will prove, not that he needs to, why he is the Rookie of the Year with his court vision and play making. Embiid, assuming he plays, will alter shots and provide a unique presence offensively in the paint. Fultz adds a completely new dimension that didn’t exist before, speed. Rather than his youth being a hinderance, it’s actually an advantage, because he’s just playing the sport he loves with the energy of someone who’s season was shrunk by more than three quarters.
If the Sixers do make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, their toughest task standing in the way of The Final will likely be LeBron James or the combination of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. But, nothing comes close to that difficulty before that.
Getting to the third round won’t be easy, but is very possible and should be expected.
The Problem with Dave Hakstol’s Flyers
Hard to argue that the Flyers aren’t the most frustrating professional sports team in Philadelphia right now.
This is the most young and promising talent on their roster in a long time. The future is very bright assuming they get a brick wall of a goalie sooner rather than later.
But, this season you’d get a team that either looked like they could win the division, or belonged out of the playoffs.
A lot of the time when they lose, it seems to be by a late goal, an overtime tally, a shootout or they played down to an inferior opponent.
Slows starts were a theme to this team that cropped up time and time again. It occurred in Game 1 versus the Penguins, but never was fixed. Alas, the 7-0 loss.
Even in light of these fixable occurrences, head coach Dave Hakstol remains stoic and unfazed, rarely showing emotion on the bench.
That doesn’t work in Philadelphia.
Peter Laviolette stepping up on the ledge and cussing out the opposing bench does.
The regular season Lavi did that, fittingly to the Penguins, was the last time the Flyers won a playoff series.
Goalies are important. Brian Elliott is too closely removed from surgery. Talent is important. The Flyers possess it, but they’re too inexperienced, minus some constant veterans. On top of all of that, coaching is important as well.
Maybe it’s time to address that department, especially if the remaining games of this season are lopsided blowouts.
Before I forget…
• Ben Simmons is the clear-cut Rookie of the Year. There shouldn’t be a debate. His overall game is better than Donovan Mitchell’s, despite Mitchell averaging more points. The Jazz guard’s apparent campaigning that Simmons isn’t a true rookie is ridiculous and immature. It may be fun to talk about, but shouldn’t factor into voters decision. Both players are greatly impacting playoff teams, but look at their skill sets. Look at how they affect basketball games. If Mitchell gets it over Simmons because the LSU product essentially “red shirted” a year do to injury, then stop giving out awards.
• Maybe Gabe Kapler isn’t as bad a manager as it appeared in the Phillies’ first five games. Just about everything Kapler did went wrong, from pitching changes, to defensive alignments. Since the opening road trip, the Phillies are 5-1, albeit against weak teams in Miami and Cincinnati. Like his young players, Kapler appears to be learning this gig called managing along the way as well. And he’s not offended by a good Philadelphia boo. Sounds like the perfect kind of dude to work in this town.
• By the way, it’s good to be back at Citizens Bank Park, despite the temperatures being insanely uncomfortable. Remember when Phillies President Andy MacPhail was talking about making upgrades to the ballpark and how some thought it was mostly unnecessary? Minus security upgrades, I was in that group, finding MacPhail’s assertion that the lighting needed improvements silly. In actuality, the changes to the ballpark are great. There are more standing room areas and places to sit and watch the game on the concourse. The Wall of Fame is in a better location and there’s a more organized display of Phillies history throughout the grounds. Most of all, “The Yard” is really cool for kids. MacPhail did a great job with the business aspect of the ballpark. Now, put in for an overdue All Star Game. It’s maddening that after this year, minus the new SunTrust Park, that CBP still won’t host an All Star Game. It is, to be fair, the oldest venue in the National League East.
• The Eagles pre-season opponents are out with a range of dates, minus the Cleveland game which is August 23rd. The funny thing is, everyone who’s excited is going to dread these contests as September gets closer. Pre-season games stink. It’s easy to forget that though in April when football is craved.