Last season, the Philadelphia 76ers had a marvelous regular season, finishing with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Unfortunately for them, they choked in the second round of the playoffs against the underdog Atlanta Hawks, losing both Game 5 and Game 7 at home.
Head coach Doc Rivers‘ seemingly innocuous comment about not being sure if Ben Simmons could be a point guard on a world championship team sparked an ongoing saga almost out of thin air, but when Simmons was traded for James Harden, it looked like the Sixers had landed on their feet.
But things have not ascended for them the way they thought they would.
With just two games left in the 2021-22 National Basketball Association regular season, Philly is on the verge of finishing just fourth in the conference.
Even if it manages to finish higher than that, it is ripe for another playoff upset in the coming weeks.
The Sixers Gave Up A Lot To Get Rid Of Simmons
At first glance, some pundits thought the Sixers “won” the Harden trade, simply because they got the best player in the deal and have now paired him with Joel Embiid, who may end up winning this season’s MVP award.
But when one takes a closer look, Philly lost a couple of other key pieces it is missing.
Seth Curry, the younger brother of Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry, was sent to the Brooklyn Nets in the trade, and he was arguably the Sixers’ best 3-point shooter.
He averaged 15.0 points a game while shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 40.0 percent from 3-point range this season while with Philly, and he is a player who could’ve helped make defenses pay for keying on Embiid and Harden.
The Sixers also lost backup center Andre Drummond in the deal, and he was having a strong season for them defensively and especially on the boards.
Drummond also served as a nice insurance policy for Embiid, who has always been injury prone and has missed 13 contests this season.
As a result of the Simmons trade, the Sixers have a relatively weak bench, while the other contenders in the East have more reliable role players who come off their benches.
To make matters worse, Harden has played well under his standards since moving down I-95.
James Harden stats in the 2nd half in his last 8 games:
He has more turnovers (16) than field goals made (14) in that stretch. pic.twitter.com/1EpPQg3QZz
— HaterMuse (@HaterMuse) April 8, 2022
The Sixers Have Not Done Well Against The Best Of The East
Philly this season doesn’t have a winning record against any of the other title contenders in their conference.
It is 2-2 against the Miami Heat, who hold the top seed, 1-2 versus the defending world champion Milwaukee Bucks, 2-2 against the Boston Celtics and 1-3 against the Brooklyn Nets.
Even worse, the Sixers have also struggled against the team they will most likely face in the first round of the 2022 NBA Playoffs, the Toronto Raptors.
They are 1-3 versus Pascal Siakam and company, which includes a 119-114 loss to them on Thursday.
In that contest, Harden had 15 assists, but he scored just 13 points in 39 minutes on 3-of-12 shooting from the field.
Philly let Siakam score a triple-double with 37 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists, while Gary Trent Jr. exploded for 30 points of his own.
The @Raptors erased a 15-point deficit led by Pascal Siakam, who dropped 23 points in the second half to lift them to victory! #WeTheNorth
🌶 37 PTS 🌶 11 REB 🌶 12 AST 🌶 2 STL pic.twitter.com/GgUJrnqXRY
— NBA (@NBA) April 8, 2022
At this rate, odds are that the Raptors will take the Sixers out in the opening round of the postseason later this month.