If you woke up Sunday morning and took a look at John Hollinger's power rankings on ESPN, you may have been shocked to find the Sixers sitting all alone at number eight. Not eighth in the Eastern Conference, eighth in the entire league. While a ranking that high is hard to justify, there are plenty of reasons to believe this team is for real.
Before we get into how crazy it is for Hollinger to be saying the Sixers are the eighth-best team in the league, read this explanation of how his rankings are created. Hollinger's ranking are objective in that they only look at numbers, but subjective in that they are weighted by his view of which numbers are important. If you're into a completely subjective ranking, Marc Stein typically updates his version early in the week (the Sixers were 17th last week).
Now, to the topic at hand. How good are the Sixers? We've had this debate seemingly all season long. When they started off slow, the consensus was they sucked. When they began to play better, there were a series of "wait and see" stretches. "Let's see how they do on the Ice Capades trip," "Let's see them beat a good team," "Let's see them blow out a bad team," "That win doesn't count because player X wasn't playing," "Team Y was tired, that win doesn't count." I'm sure for certain people, the tests don't matter, there will always be some fictional hurdle to be jumped. In reality, the Sixers have played like a good team, whatever that means, but they do have much, much left to prove. 54 games does not a season make. With that being said, let's take a look at some very encouraging and, in some cases, surprising numbers and trends.
The first test: How do they perform against .500+ teams?
- Overall: 13-17
- Started the season: 4-11
- Since: 9-6
- 13 wins is the second most against .500+ teams by any team in the Eastern Conference (behind Boston)
- 2,862 points scored, 2,880 points allowed (-18 in 30 games)
- 105.12 OFR
- 105.78 DFR
- 90.44 pace
- Overall: 13-11
- Started the season: 2-7
- Since: 11-4
- 2,430 points scored, 2,340 points allowed (+90 in 24 games)
- 109.56 OFR
- 105.51 DFR
- 90.83 pace
- Wins by 10 or more points: 17 (7 vs. .500+ teams)
- Losses by 10 or more points: 8 (5 vs. .500+ teams)
- So, in games decided by 10 or more, the Sixers are:
- 10-3 vs. -.500 teams
- 7-5 vs. .500+ teams
- Record vs. the East: 16-20
- Record vs. the West: 10-8
- OFR vs. W: 106.56
- DFR vs. W: 104.28
- Pace vs. W: 89.93
- OFR vs. E: 107.38
- DFR vs. E: 106.33
- Pace vs. E: 90.96
- Of their 18 games against the West, 15 have been against teams with a .500+ record.
As Sixers fans, we're programmed to wait for the other shoe to drop. We start the season leaning back in our chairs, waiting for the worst to happen. When the wins start to come, we pay closer attention, but don't change our posture. When the team approaches .500, we start leaning forward, we start paying attention, but we're constantly waiting for that bad stretch to bring us back down to Earth. We've been waiting for the better part of two months now, and it hasn't happened. In fact, every loss seems like a much bigger deal than it is because we've come to expect wins. Think about that, from 27-55, to expecting this team to win when they play a good team, at home or on the road. That says more than any number I posted above.
I've taken a look at the remaining schedule and I've got a number in mind: 44. 44 wins, 38 losses. That's where I think the Sixers can finish this season, without really playing above their heads the rest of the way. Stay the course, play the type of basketball they've been playing since the end of November, and we're talking 44 wins. If they stay hot, who knows?
The next step is to get to .500. They can accomplish that this week with two wins over the Grizzlies and Rockets. If they don't, the schedule immediately following the All Star break is very favorable. They're going to get there, it's just a matter of when.