You might notice that I used the word "shipwrecked" in the title of this essay. There are a lot of words for describing ways in which a team is bad. But for the Philadelphia 76ers, "shipwrecked" seems like the most apt term possible.
Why? Well, take a second to think about it. If you've ever suffered a shipwreck, it likely hasn't been pleasant. There was likely a large body of water surrounding you, and you had to make a escape of some kind. If you owned the ship or left valuables on it, you likely stand to lose them. If you were heading towards a particular destination, you wouldn't make it. Put bluntly, getting in a shipwreck sucks.
But that's entirely different than being "shipwrecked". Once you've achieved that status, you're screwed no matter what you do. You likely have no contact with the outside world, you have limited supplies, you're in unfamiliar territory, and survival is your main concern. Even if you manage to make a living in your new environment, your quality of life is likely nowhere near that of your old life. Really, the only way for you to feasibly survive is by going out on the rickety boat you just made out of supplies conveniently washed up on shore from the Fedex plane that had crashed nearby.
The 76ers are pretty much in that exact situation. The roster Brett Brown was given for this year was predicted to be one of the worst of all time. Aside from a small core of players with potential (Turner, Carter-Williams, Young, Hawes), the team was literally constructed from NBA misfits. Hollis Thompson, a undrafted Thunder castoff from two years ago, has started 18 times this season. Daniel Orton, someone whom many saw as a hometown signee, has gotten significant minutes with the 76ers. The list of guys perceived to be on their last legs goes on, with only the most fanatical of homers able to predict anything but the lottery this season.
Of course, that's not how the story ends. The 76ers have actually managed to make themselves into a sometimes competitive basketball team. They secured recent wins over successful opponents in Charlotte and Portland, and boast a very high ceiling. On an individual level, Evan Turner finally lived up to his potential, using his strength, good body control, and mean mid-range jumper to put together some solid offensive performances. Furthermore, Michael Carter-Williams made a strong case as the best player out of the draft, using his solid defense and passing ability to draw comparisons to Magic Johnson. Lastly, unexpected guys have broken out too, with Tony Wroten having a breakout Sophomore campaign and James Anderson resurrecting his career after malaised stints in San Antonio and Houston. On a team level, they worked to emphasize a pressure and run-heavy defensive mindset, quickly establishing themselves as the league's fastest team.
Luckily, the Sixers newfound competitiveness doesn't stand to hurt their chances at the lottery. For despite their excellent coaching and newfound talent, they're still extremely inexperienced and prone to complete collapse. And by complete, I mean complete, total, utter, and absolute. Don't believe me? Check out their Basketball-reference game results.
The above is a graph, with a green bar representing a win by as many points, and a red bar representing a loss by as many points. Yeah, that's some really deep, deep red. The Sixers have only lost two games by less than 7 points, despite having 28 losses (and 14 victories) to their name. They give a whole new meaning to the phrase "in it to win it".
Looking over to the Thunder's side of things, generally they'll fare well against fast-paced and high-scoring teams. The Thunder have some of the best offensive firepower in the league, as well as several very skilled transition scorers. The 76ers are unique, though. They actually manage to do well against the NBA's faster squads, boasting a 4-5 record against the 10 fastest teams in the NBA (according to Hollinger). Thus, they can be a serious threat to win tonight if the cards actually manage to fall in the right place.
From a semantics standpoint, the Thunder don't have a lot of momentum in their favor. Tonight is the tail end of the Thunder's first four game in five night stretch this season, so they're tired. During that stretch, they've traveled from Oklahoma City, to San Antonio, to Boston, to Philadelphia. That's 2,819 miles, or 6 hours and 22 minutes spent in the air over the course of five days. To add odds even further against the Thunder's favor, you could look to how the Sixers haven't beaten the Thunder since November 15th, 2008. It's the longest active winning streak that the Thunder have, and the Sixers the only team to have never registered a win against Scott Brooks. In other words, tonight is a COMPLETE AND TOTAL TRAP GAME.
The biggest variable on the Thunder's end is the status of Kevin Durant. He appeared to be fine on Wednesday against San Antonio, but was sat out on Friday due to a minor shoulder sprain. Supposedly, it was just a precautionary measure. The Celtics were in total disarray so it wasn't a hard game to win, but it was the first game that the Thunder ever played without Durant OR Westbrook. So, needless to say, fans of the team are feeling pretty vulnerable right now, though two straight KD-less wins on the road might do well to silence critics.
My inkling is that Durant will play (especially given how he was in uniform last night), and that this game will likely go down to the wire. Philadelphia is a really weird team that's had two short runs of success mired by long runs of crap, but there's just too many factors going in their favor to ignore. They're going to be able to take advantage of the Thunder's turnover problem, the Thunder likely won't be able to exploit their size in the post, and it'll likely take another glorious finale from KD to drag this team through to victory.
Getting back to the metaphor, the 76ers shipwrecked 2013-2014 expedition actually hasn't gone that badly so far. The team has managed to set up camp, there's no signs of mutiny, living is austere but not harsh, they've been able to raid a few ships passing by, and it's even looking like they'll be able to collect the insurance payment on their intentionally wrecked ship. But no matter what the Sixers do, they'll have to make the dangerous journey back home when the season's over.
The Thunder? Well, after we use our battleship to tear through the Sixers island paradise like so many have before, we'll have an incredibly awesome playoff party at the end of the season. I mean, that's just how we do.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 116, Philadelphia 76ers 108.
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