The Sixers get some good fortunes (where have I heard that before) when facing the Knicks and Celtics this week – both will be on the road playing back-to-back games, while the Sixers have days off in-between at home.
The Knicks come first, Wednesday, from New York off a game against the Raptors. The Raptors haven’t given them too much trouble, New York won comfortably. So going into Wednesday’s game, the Knicks sit 4 games behind them for the division lead. It’s a lot to make up, but not impossible, especially with the roster mostly uninjured. The Sixers are 1-1 against them so far, splitting games at Madison Square Garden. This will be the first game at Wells Fargo Center.
Then come the Celtics into town. Their trip will be a lot more difficult – they will be coming off a game in Milwaukee, nearly halfway across the country and in another time zone. Moreover, the Celtics will be wrapping up an 8 game road trip, most of it on the West Coast.
The key is that both are playing on back-to-backs. While the Sixers haven’t completely taken advantage of these foes (with a 3-3 record), the Knicks and Celtics have predictably struggled. Per John Schuhmann, who wrote precisely on this topic, the Knicks are 0-6 against a more well-rested opponent, while the Celtics are 2-5. The Sixers have even more of an advantage added on top of the rest – they’ll be playing at home. The key for the Sixers will be to use their fast-break proficiency and run up and down the floor, leaving their opponent’s to try and defend their young and relatively fresh legs.
Meanwhile, the season is already roughly two-thirds complete, and games are getting harder to make up. The Sixers hold a 1.5 game lead over the Celtics, which is actually a lot given the circumstances. And while the Sixers may not be at their best right now, the Celtics should have a tough time making up the deficit. As John Hollinger wrote today (note: Insider only), the Celtics have a rough schedule ahead, with 14 road games remaining. They will have a tough time catching the Sixers despite the small difference, even if the Sixers only manage a .500 record for the rest of the year (which looks more and more likely based off of recent play), due to their strong schedule and time. The Knicks have a similarly tough schedule – as Hollinger points, the Knicks and Celtics have end-heavy schedules based on attempts to get those teams on national television.
The Sixers have a golden opportunity to almost wrap up a division title with these games on tap then – at a minimum, they’ll have a 2.5 game lead on the Celtics if they win both. They’ll need to take advantage to avoid an end-of-season collapse.