The Philadelphia 76ers are among the 22 franchises invited to Orlando, Florida to resume the 2019-20 NBA season, which was suspended in March due to the coronavirus.
The Sixers have an opportunity to regain confidence heading into the 2020 Eastern Conference playoffs, as the lead-up to the NBA’s hiatus saw Philadelphia lose nine of 17 games, typified by four consecutive losses following by four straight wins.
Philly enters the restart in Orlando with just the sixth-best record in the East, an insult given how close the Sixers were from competing in the conference finals more than a year ago.
— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) June 26, 2020
With the schedule out, we rank the the best matchups for the Sixers in the Orlando Bubble games.
5. Phoenix Suns [August 11]
The Sixers match up with the Phoenix Suns on Aug. 11. Due to the schedule, the Philly franchise plays the Suns on the first night of a back-to-back, which also sees them playing last year’s champion Toronto Raptors the next day.
It should be interesting to see how hard both teams play in this outing. The Suns, at 26-39, are six games removed from the last spot in the Western Conference playoff picture and are unlikely to make the postseason. The Sixers, meanwhile, lost their only contest with the Suns earlier this season last November, losing by five points on the road.
4. Orlando Magic [August 7]
The Orlando Magic are locked into the last spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs, with a 5.5-game cushion over the Washington Wizards.
The Magic are another team worth checking out, especially on how motivated they could be by the time of the NBA’s restart in their backyard. They’re not far from potentially moving up to the No. 7 seed, or maybe they don’t mind and are already mentally prepared to face off with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the postseason.
Either way, the Magic were a team not to be taken lightly during the regular season, as they won their last three games of the season. Oh, and they also beat the Sixers in their two meetings in 2019-20!
3. Houston Rockets [August 14]
The Houston Rockets may be the exact opposite team as the Sixers, who have loaded tall and big-bodied talents in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid while the Rockets are very much not tall.
Houston shipped center Clint Capela out by the trade deadline in favor of bringing in 3-and-D forward specialist Robert Covington, who is thriving alongside star guards Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
The Rockets have the ability to swing games with the 3-ball and push the pace, which may make the Sixers uncomfortable in their one-time-only, 48-minute duel in Orlando before the regular season is officially wrapped up. Simmons and Embiid will have their hands full with Houston.
2. Toronto Raptors [August 12]
Last year’s champions, the Toronto Raptors, are a funky team to match up with the Sixers given the two teams’ respective roster constructions: Kyle Lowry and Simmons, Pascal Siakam and Al Horford, Marc Gasol and Embiid.
The Raptors also have the kind of depth Philly dreams of (or at least tried to replicate when they traded for Golden State Warriors wings Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson at the trade deadline in February).
The Raptors have the experience and know what it takes to win. Of course, they proved that in a tough, seven-game series victory in the second round of last year’s playoffs against the Sixers. Philly has a chance to redeem itself by taking care of business against Toronto and prepare for the playoffs by beating the champs.
1. Indiana Pacers [August 1]
The Indiana Pacers share the same record as the Sixers, at 39-26, but they possess the fifth seed — something the Sixers are gunning for in the NBA’s resumed season.
Philly’s biggest matchup may be its first when they play the Pacers at the first of the month in August. Indiana will have a rejuvenated Victor Oladipo, who missed most of the 2019-20 season due to a quad rupture and only returned and played fewer minutes in late January.
The Sixers will also have to wrestle with Pacers’ bigs in first-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner. Indiana is a disciplined team with a lot on the line, potentially wrangling the fourth seed for themselves.
For the Sixers, evening the score with the Pacers (they’re 1-2 in this season’s matchups) would be a feel-good takeaway to kick off this strange NBA season restart and journey into the playoffs.