As they always say, “timing is everything.” It rings true with the 2022-23 NBA season, where it’s just chaos in the standings on both conferences – out West, there’s a bottleneck from seeds 5 to 13, especially in the latter slots, while in the East, it’s basically present in every three spots from 2 through 12.
East standings as of March 18, 2023:
|New York Knicks||41||30|
The Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards are currently tied at 32-38 in the 11th and 12th spots, respectively, only a game back from the 10th-seeded Bulls.
With such up-and-down action, it’s good to have that jolt to create more leeway in the competitive ladder and pump more confidence in the group, which is what exactly the Philadelphia 76ers are doing as of late. It’s far from what they had back in mid-January, when they were fifth with a 25-16 slate and only a few games separated from a play-in seeding.
Streak after streak
Since that time, the Sixers have gone 22-6 that included three separate winning streaks of five or more, one of which is currently active. In that 28-game, two-month stretch, offensive and defensive efficiency were also evident as they are number one in three-point shooting (40.7%) and third in points allowed per game (110.8).
It’s a solid run that’s sure to generate great energy from the guys. As seen in the standings, they even have a shot at chasing the Bucks for the top seed.
Nevertheless, what’s even more encouraging is it is reminiscent of what the Boston Celtics did last year, which also started in January, maintained through the end of the regular season, and eventually parlayed into an Eastern Conference championship – they lost in the finals, but it significantly raised the group’s chemistry and confidence with one another.
The new MVP leader
Headlining all that is the play of their 2023 All-Star: Joel Embiid. On the heels of back-to-back runner-up finishes in the MVP race, the superstar big man is gunning hard once again, hoping that the third one’s the charm. He has put together a fantastic string of performance that has helped him overtake his Denver Nuggets counterpart, two-time reigning MVP, Nikola Jokic – the Nuggets’ recent struggles factored as well.
As always with a leading candidate, Embiid is blasting great numbers and doing it on a consistent basis. He currently leads the league in scoring at 33.5 points per game, and could potentially win the scoring title for the second-straight season. If he holds on, he’ll be the first center to accomplish such a feat since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1972.
Not to jinx the man, but he’s in a really good position to do it. He leads second-placer Luka Doncic by 0.5, and doesn’t appear to be slowing down, as seen in his stats in the active six-game winning streak: 38.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 3.2 blocks, and an insanely efficient shooting split of 64.7%/46.7%/89.3%.
Here’s his performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers this past Thursday:
James Harden and Tyrese Maxey
Adding to the positives is what’s behind Embiid, as he basically has the best of both worlds next to him in the lineup. One is James Harden, a 33-year-old veteran and former MVP who has elite facilitating capabilities and playoff experience, and most importantly, he can still light it up the scoreboard whenever he wants too. He’s posting 22.0 points and 11.6 assists in his last 10 outings.
The other is 22-year-old Tyrese Maxey, a speedy, offensive weapon that can provide damage from anywhere in a blur. He represents the youthful energy that can certainly aid Embiid and the team, something good to have in a gruelling playoff run.
Things are simply looking good for the Sixers, and it will be good to see how they’ll finish the regular season. They are aiming to finally have that one great surge in the postseason under Embiid and third-year head coach Doc Rivers.