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Are the Philadelphia 76ers For Real?

The Philadelphia 76ers are off to an impressive 7-2 start, but is it a product of their schedule, or is this team for real?

Last week I wrote a long article about how I felt the Sixers may be spending another season stuck in mediocrity. Below is an excerpt...

I spent the past few months lamenting a potential loss of an NBA season. I petitioned against and chastised the lockout time and time again. I prayed that the Sixers would finally return to my television screen, therefore alleviating my NBA basketball addiction. The problem is, so far this season, I spent the majority of time flipping back and forth between the Sixers games and the plethora of games on NBA League Pass. Although I am ecstatic about the return of the NBA, I am less excited about the return of the Philadelphia 76ers.

The reason behind my bold statement is this...I still don't see a team that can compete for a title. I don't blame Doug Collins for this. His team plays hard. I definitely see the effort, as well as the improvement in our young players like Holiday, Turner, and Hawes. But let's not kid ourselves. Although the Sixers' record currently stands at 3-2, with all games being played away from the Wells Fargo Center, the strength of schedule has been weak. Besides Portland, what playoff caliber teams have the Sixers played?

I don't mean to be Debbie Downer here, but every time I see Andre Iguodala jack up an ill-advised three, I cringe. The same players, making the same mistakes!

I had this article ready for publishing, but something stopped me from hitting the submit button. You see, I struggle with my own inner demons. As a former athlete, I find it hard to criticize, when I understand how difficult being a professional basketball player really is. But as a writer I am paid to tell it like it is. This was the inner struggle I dealt with as I read this article over and over before finally deciding to watch one more game, prior to making a decision about the article. After watching the past few games, I'm glad I waited.

Now, I still do agree that the Sixers have been gifted an incredibly easy start to the season. Especially considering the best team they played, (Indiana) was without their star player, (Danny Granger) due to food poisoning. However, I do take back my comment on how this team is not exciting to watch.

The Sixers have begun raising eyebrows in a city that has long forgotten professional basketball existed, and have done so with a "defense first" platform. The Sixers lead the league with the fewest points allowed per game, with an average of 85.56%. They are also third overall in points scored.

Another stat that is endearing to a team oriented fan like myself, is the balanced scoring. Five players from Philadelphia average double digit points so far this year. In their first nine games, six different players have led the team in scoring.

The real key for the Sixers this year has been the ability to win the games they should win. Besides Utah, Philadelphia has demonstrated their ability to bring the same intensity night after night.

So the real question becomes, is this team for real, or is their 7-2 record just a product of an easy schedule and lucky breaks?

To answer this I feel the need to bring up the +16 point margin of victory the Sixers have over their opponents this season. I can understand looking at their record, looking at who they played, then making wild accusations, (I did). But the margin of victory needs to be a factor in this equation.

The Sixers are not just beating teams, they are demoralizing them...And doing so while giving their core group adequate rest. This will be crucial during the next few weeks, as the Sixers schedule turns far more difficult.

The Sixers, at the end of January will face off against four of the five top teams in the East, as well as both LA franchises and the Spurs over a week and a half. If they come out of the stretch with a record above .500, we may need to start taking this team seriously.

Until that time, I will continue to watch and hope that the 76ers can take us beyond the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs...Baby steps.