There is no denying the fact that NBA All-Star Weekend didn’t go quite according to plan for the Philadelphia 76ers. What was expected to be the celebration of a strong first-half effort for the club — which had battled its way to the top of the Eastern Conference — went awry when Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were excluded from the festivities due to contact tracing.
In spite of the fallout from the dynamic duo’s near-miss with COVID-19 and Embiid’s untimely injury just a handful of days later, though, Philadelphia may be playing its best basketball of the season.
The Sixers have been so good, in fact, that one could argue they have been the best team in the Association to tip-off the league’s second-half slate. Even as a slew of Eastern Conference foes have come storming out of the mid-season break with similar vigor.
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While they have yet to play one of the league’s elite teams coming out of the break — that will happen on Wednesday when they host the Milwaukee Bucks on the wrong end of a back-to-back — the Sixers have been dominant through three second-half contests.
Philly has scored 127 or more points and won in blowout fashion in every game since returning to the court. That in and of itself may be enough to raise eyes, but advanced metrics paint an even more impressive portrait
Offensively, the Sixers are in the midst of one of their best stretches all season, even as Embiid and Simmons have missed multiple games. The team’s offensive rating checks in at a league-best 126.4; as a result, the Sixers are outpacing opponents by nearly 26 points per 100 possessions, which is in another stratosphere compared to the other 29 teams.
Although Philly’s pace and ball movement have been major factors in the uptick, its shot-making ability has been the defining characteristic in the increased output.
Over the three-game stretch, the Sixers are second in the Association in catch-and-shoot field goal percentage (48.6), as well as pull-up shooting (47.4). And they are doing more damage early in the shot clock, attempting 12.3 shots per game in the 22 to 18-second range and posting an effective field goal percentage of 77.0 in those attempts.
The Sixers have also excelled at producing points off of penetration, scoring nearly 60 percent of their points on drives (fourth-highest league-wide).
Sixers Still Locking it Down
Defensively, the Sixers continue to suffocate opponents, much as they have done all season. Since the All-Star break, the team ranks third in the league with a defensive rating of 100.7. In particular, the team’s ability to limit opponents’ three-point potency has been a boon.
Over the same stretch of games, the Sixers allowed the opposition to attempt just 24.7 three-point shots per contest, which is the lowest amount in the league by a significant margin. So, even as the Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards and San Antonio Spurs shot an average-ish 35.1 percent from deep against them, they have limited the point production significantly.
Philly has also done well to end possessions cleanly, grabbing 80.7 percent of available defensive rebounds in those games. That represents the fourth-best mark in the NBA since the break.
The fact that they’ve done all of this with two Defensive Player of the Year candidates missing time speaks volumes about how the rest of the squad has picked up the slack.