76ers schedule lookahead: Ranking this week’s games by level of importance

Sixers Warriors Joel Embiid (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Sixers Warriors Joel Embiid (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers have won eight straight, making them 48-22 on the season. That places them second in the East and — don’t look now — only two games behind Milwaukee for the coveted one-seed with 12 games left on the schedule.

So, naturally, every game this week takes on elevated importance. If the red-hot Bucks slip even a little, Philadelphia could swipe the top seed and, by extension, avoid facing either Milwaukee or Boston until the conference finals.

While the Sixers don’t have any high-stakes conference games, they do have multiple contenders on the docket. With four games total this week, which should fans of the Sixers be most eagerly awaiting?

Philadelphia 76ers schedule lookahead: Can Philly keep the win streak going?

The Sixers start the week with a brief one-game home stand before departing for yet another west coast road trip. Philly has spent a lot of time on the road lately, often facing average-to-good opponents. That’s what makes their recent stretch of dominance so impressive — they’re doing it against the hardest strength of schedule in the NBA.

4. Chicago Bulls at Philadelphia 76ers

When: Monday, March 20 at 7:00 PM E.T.

Chicago is fighting hard for a play-in spot right now. The Patrick Beverley signing has brought new verve and vigor to the rotation and there’s no discounting the star power of DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine on any given night.

That said, Philadelphia has owned Chicago in recent years. Embiid consistently torches Nikola Vucevic in space and the Bulls’ offense has been uncharacteristically inconsistent all year. The Sixers are playing elite defense right now, spearheaded by none other than Embiid. The Bulls will enter this game as heavy underdogs, but it definitely has the feel of a trap game. Philly can’t get complacent at home against mediocre competition — we’ve seen it happen before.

3. Philadelphia 76ers at Chicago Bulls

When: Wednesday, March 22 at 8:00 PM E.T.

The Sixers will get on a plane after Monday’s game and fly to Chicago for the second game of a home-and-home series. The Bulls will no doubt feel more confident on their home floor, and it can be difficult to beat the same team twice in a row.

The start of a road trip, this also has the feel of a trap game — especially if Philadelphia takes care of business in the Wells Fargo Center on Monday. Chicago has the ability to ride dominant performances from DeRozan to victory, and the Sixers traditionally struggle to contain high-powered perimeter scorers. Plus, the Bulls’ pesky defense — with Alex Caruso and Patrick Beverley at the tip of the spear — could build more momentum in front of a favorable crowd.

2. Philadelphia 76ers at Golden State Warriors

When: Friday, March 24 at 10:00 PM E.T.

The Warriors are currently 36-36, which places them seventh-place in the West. It’s hard to seriously consider a play-in team a “contender,” but if any group has earned the extreme benefit of the doubt it’s the reigning NBA champs.

Golden State has been virtually incapable of winning on the road this season, but this is not a road game. The Warriors are 29-7 at home, making this arguably the most difficult game of Philadelphia’s week.

More than one might expect, the Warriors have solid defensive answers to the Embiid problem. Kevon Looney is strong-willed and fundamentally sound. Meanwhile, Draymond Green — despite the height disadvantage — has faired well against Embiid in the past. The Warriors have the potential to play connected, swarming defense that will challenge the current MVP favorite.

The Warriors also have a free-flowing offense led by two of the greatest shooters of all time. That could be problematic for the Sixers’ notoriously fickle perimeter defense.

1. Philadelphia 76ers at Phoenix Suns

When: Saturday, March 25 at 10:00 PM E.T.

The second night of a back-to-back on the road is always tough. If the Sixers extend their win streak to 11 with victories over Chicago (x2) and Golden State, this would be a prime opportunity for someone to knock them off their pedestal. And the Phoenix Suns are more than capable of it.

Unfortunately, we won’t get to see Kevin Durant in what could feasibly be a Finals preview. Even without Durant, though, the Suns have Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and Deandre Ayton. The latter has struggled to match Embiid’s physicality in the past, but CP3 and Booker are engineered to exploit the gaps in Philadelphia’s perimeter defense.

The Suns are the best team Philadelphia will face this week, and they will face Phoenix under the worst possible circumstances. Tired legs, with most of the week spent on the road. It’s not a good mix. If I had to bet on when Philly’s current surge will end, the Golden State-Phoenix double whammy is where I’d put my money.