Sixers fans: This is our year

Joel Embiid, Sixers Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Joel Embiid, Sixers Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

The vibes in Philly are immaculate. The Phillies won their first and second playoff series’ in over a decade, the Eagles are the last undefeated team in the NFL, and the Sixers have surrounded Joel Embiid with his best supporting cast yet.

Given the way last season ended, it’s easy to forget that the Sixers were title contenders entering the playoffs. Embiid was on fire, should have won MVP, and had hit a career-defining game-winning three pointer against the Raptors in overtime. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn ligament in his right thumb and an orbital fracture against Toronto. If he had been healthy, they would have beaten the Miami Heat and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.

And this year’s team is even better. Joel Embiid asked for a player like PJ Tucker so the Sixers went out and got PJ Tucker. The bench is deeper than ever before, with even former playoff starters Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, and Shake Milton with no clear path to cracking the rotation. Paul Reed is the best backup center the Sixers have had for Embiid.

We have local enologist James Harden to thank for the depth of the roster. Harden agreed to take less money in the offseason so that the team could sign PJ Tucker and Danuel House under the taxpayer mid-level and bi-annual exceptions.

The Harden-Embiid pick and roll was already dominant and the team has had an offseason to improve it. Tobias Harris bought into his new role, became much more decisive with catch-and-shoot threes, and can focus his efforts on defense. Tyrese Maxey looks set to take another leap and appears set to never miss a three pointer.

The Sixers are finally ready to win the conference — and the championship.

In the Eastern Conference, the Sixers only have two main rivals to worry about: the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics. Embiid has always defended Giannis Antetokounmpo well. Because the Bucks do not have Giannis defend Embiid, it is unclear who would guard Joel in the series. Probably some combination of Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis. That certainly favors the Sixers.

The Celtics would have been the presumptive favorite entering the season, but their prospects are murky with Coach Ime Udoka suspended for the season. Before their second-half surge, the team was mired in mediocrity and nearly broke up their star duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Many credit Udoka for turning the situation around. Which Boston team will we see without Udoka?

None of the teams in the West should scare the Sixers. The defending champion Golden State Warriors have an aging core that will be another year older. Not to mention the kerfuffle between Jordan Poole and Draymond Green. A matchup with Steph Curry is also a perfect time for the Sixers to give defensive stalwart Thybulle over 20 minutes a game to do nothing but guard Curry.

Phoenix seems less intimidating after consecutive meltdowns in the NBA Finals two years ago and against the Dallas Mavericks last year. Chris Paul will be another year older and the team might be trading star Center DeAndre Ayton at some point in the season. The Memphis Grizzlies have a good shot of emerging out of the West but Embiid should have no trouble dominating Memphis Center Steve Adams.

The Process has been long and arduous. We’ve been through Burnergate, Fultz’s unique shooting technique, and the Kawhi shot. But it will all be worth it. This is our year.

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