This last All-Star break was perhaps the best I’ve ever seen. I don’t think any of us were expecting such an awesome weekend for the NBA. Think back on the NBA All-Star weekends of old, when we had fonder memories of some of those old years like the MJ vs Dominique Wilkins slam dunk contests and Vince Carter in the late 1990’s.
We had those 1990’s All-Star games highlighted by our first glimpses of “Super Teams.” Now, we actually have seen super teams assemble. Thanks to the new Elam rule, where there’s a 25-point finish line set at the beginning of the fourth quarter, we got to see a truly exciting fourth quarter and the outright most competitive NBA All-Star game we’ve ever seen. We also just had possible the best Slam Dunk contests in the history of the contest.
NBA Slam Dunk Contest recap
Last week, I wrote about the two favorites for the dunk contest. I mentioned I was worried about Aaron Gordon’s athleticism and I thought Derrick Jones Jr was ready to take the title this year. I don’t feel like I should get the credit for this one. Aaron Gordon was completely robbed. Had the order not gone as it did, Pat Connaghton and Aaron Gordon would’ve likely gone to the finals of the contest.
Derrick Jones Jr got way too much credit for his first dunk and Connaghton was cheated on his first dunk, which also turned out to be the only clean, first-attempt dunk of the opening round. Derrick Jones Jr. definitely won by virtue of having his former teammate be the deciding vote for the whole thing, as Aaron Gordon scored perfect on his first five dunks, and somehow still lost. Regardless, a win is a win and I’ll reluctantly take credit for calling that one, as undeserving as it was.
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76ers vs Nets Feb 20
The Sixers appeared to be healthy coming out of the All-Star break, but lower back stiffness from Ben Simmons on Wednesday lingered into Thursday. With Simmons out for Thursday’s game, the Sixers were going to have to adjust their gameplan once again. For weeks now (maybe even months), I’ve been complaining about how the Sixers needed to cut down the three-point attempts and start attacking the paint more.
The Sixers came out Thursday and tried something different, and it turned out well for them. Part of their success in the game was due to the solid defensive effort. The Sixers held the Nets to just 35% from the field and 29% from three. What was interesting about the Sixers in this game was their utilization of Harris and Embiid.
Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson III, and Raul Neto played a combined 72 minutes and the Sixers still won. Burks’ 19 points was third on the team, but the story of this game was three parts. The first part was the 4-22 from deep. The lack of attempts from the Sixers best three-point shooters tells me they had a plan to ride Harris and Embiid and they stuck to it. The second part was the dominance of Harris and Embiid. Not only did they both put up triple doubles, both were significantly more active down low, rebounding.
Embiid was incredible, going 10-20 from the field but 18-19 from the line. The third part is the Sixers free throw shooting. The Sixers went 32-35 from the line, which was incredible. Going forward, it’s hard to conceive the Sixers can utilize this “Shut everything down and let Harris and Embiid go to work” strategy, but they seriously should consider it when Simmons is off the floor or when the situation favors it. T
his game was really bad for the Nets offensively, but the Nets still managed to win the battle on the boards. What was interesting about this two-man attack from the Sixers is that the lack of dynamic ball movement limited the turnovers for the Sixers. The Sixers were actually +3 on turnover margin, which makes this victory even more odd, given their typical splits.
Are the Sixers a good bet in the East?
Earlier in the season, I wrote about the Sixers as a futures pick for the East. Let’s take a look at how things may have changed and what that bet looks like now with odds provided by PlaySugarHouse and BetRivers.
The Sixers are currently the #5 seed in the East. At 35-21, they’re five games out of the two seed in the East. On the one hand, you can look at the Sixers odds (currently second-best in the East) and tell yourself it’s a bad bet, given their current standing. However, the Sixers are the most dynamic team in the East and capable of showing their opposition many different looks.
That angle can get easily lost amongst the panic of seeing their season go in so many different directions. The team wants to find their identity and the fans want them to find their identity, but is having one identity such a good thing?
Often times, we see two types of NBA Championship teams. We see the stud team who is carried on the backs of a few stars, and we see the team with interchangeable pieces who can beat you a variety of different ways. I think the Sixers may be the latter and a version of such we’ve never seen in the history of the league. There’s six players on this roster who can take over a game offensively.
Defensively, the team is strong and offers a lot of length. We saw how dangerous they were in the playoffs a year ago and to me, I think the Raptors and Bucks are they types of teams you can sort of figure out after a few games in a series. You can’t solve the Sixers because there’s nothing to solve. They are a versatile unit with no identity.
I think +600 is a good bet. I think there’s a small chance the Sixers fall apart in the playoffs but I think there’s an overwhelmingly good chance they figure things out, series to series. Eventually, they’ll be in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals and we’ll still be asking ourselves, “Yeah, this is going well, but I still don’t know what this team is.”