The Philadelphia 76ers are winners of five straight, owners of both a top-five defense and a top-five offense and the trendy pick to win the Atlantic Division, due to a combination of Boston's normal disregard for the regular season, New York's slow start and Philadelphia's own strong play. But Sports Illustrated's Zach Lowe isn't entirely convinced. Yet.
Lowe does not want to take any luster from what Philadelphia has accomplished thus far, but he would like to point out that Philadelphia's offense struggled consistently against top defense's last season -- the same defenses the Sixers would need to beat to translate their early-season regular success into playoff accomplishment. So far, the Sixers have not played an overly challenging schedule and Lowe would like to wait before judging if Philadelphia's offense can maintain its current pace.
I'm not saying Philly is just so-so, or that this start is a complete fluke. This team is a joy to watch when it's right, it should absolutely finish (on the low end) among the league's top 10 defenses (it ranked seventh last season) and it has played beautiful offense so far this season. Let's just hold off shoving the Sixers into the elite until they play some better teams, which starts Wednesday in New York and really kicks in with a three-games-in-four nights stretch next week against Denver, Atlanta and Miami.
Philly's offense will determine whether this is a true playoff threat or a nice four-to-six seed capable of winning a playoff round before bowing out meekly against Miami or Chicago. Philadelphia ranked 17th in points per possession last season, and as I wrote in the lead-up to last season's playoffs, the Sixers struggled to score against the league's best defenses - the teams you must beat if you're serious about playing in late May or beyond.