CAMDEN – On the heels of Monday’s schedule reveal, we’re devoting the next two days to giving you a conference-by-conference, team-by-team snapshot of the other 29 clubs the 76ers will face this season.
With the Sixers belonging to the Atlantic Division, we figured it would make the most sense to start this exercise in the East, where the majority of the team’s games will be played (52 of 82, or, 63%).
In all, the Sixers are set to square off with each of their Eastern Conference foes four times in 2017-2018, with the exception of Atlanta, Chicago, Indiana, and Orlando. These non-division opponents, based on formulas used for the NBA scheduling matrix, will surface on the Sixers’ three times.
While there’s been plenty of speculation this off-season about how competitive the East will (or won’t) be this coming year, the conference did gain one of the league’s rising stars through free agency, and still remains home to the King’s throne.
Nonetheless, popular belief is that come this spring, some new teams will factor into the East’s playoff picture. By staying healthy, and maximizing their potential, perhaps the Sixers could be one of them.
Here now is our look at the Sixers’ Eastern Conference slate.
Atlanta Hawks: 11/1 (H), 3/30 (A), 4/10 (H)
Why Watch: For the second time in as many off-seasons, Atlanta lost key frontcourt talent. In 2016, it was Al Horford who bounced for Boston. This year, All-Star Paul Millsap elected to sign with Denver, while Dwight Howard was dealt Charlotte. After acquiring Ersan Ilyasova from the Sixers via a February trade, the Hawks made a short-term free agency commitment this summer to the veteran forward. Atlanta will be aiming to stretch its playoff appearance streak to an 11th consecutive year.
Boston Celtics: 10/20 (H), 11/30 (A), 1/11 (H, London), 1/18 (A)
Why Watch: The Sixers and Boston will see plenty of each other in October, between a pair of pre-season games, and the Sixers’ home-opener on October 20th. The Celtics broke through last year for their first Atlantic Division title in five years, and ended the regular season atop the East, too. Ultimately, the C’s fell to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals. Without question, their summer was a busy one, as the franchise signed All-Star Gordon Hayward, and drafted Jayson Tatum No. 3 overall.
Brooklyn Nets: 1/31 (A), 3/11 (A), 3/16 (H), 4/3 (H)
Why Watch: Brooklyn might have finished with the NBA’s poorest winning percentage a year ago, but general manager Sean Marks had an aggressive off-season. Days before the draft, the Nets swung a trade with the Los Angeles Lakers for 2015 No. 2 pick D’Angelo Russell. A few nights later, they chose big man Jarrett Allen 22nd overall. July saw Brooklyn snag seasoned vets De’Marre Carroll and Allen Crabbe in separate trades.
Charlotte Hornets: 3/2 (H), 3/6 (A), 3/19 (H), 4/1 (A)
Why Watch: Having guided Charlotte to the playoffs in two of his first three seasons as head coach, Brett Brown’s long-time friend Steve Clifford found himself looking to the lottery this spring. The Hornets wound up with the 11th pick in the draft, and used it to add potent perimeter threat Malik Monk to a backcourt already featuring Kemba Walker, who was a first-time All-Star in 2017. To get Dwight Howard from Atlanta, Charlotte had to part ways with Marco Belinelli and Miles Plumlee.
Chicago Bulls: 12/18 (A), 1/24 (H), 2/22 (A)
Why Watch: The most dramatic move on this year’s draft night may have very well been the deal that sent Jimmy Butler from Chicago to Minnesota. While the exchange resulted in the Bulls losing an All-Star who had once been viewed as the face of the franchise for the long term, Chicago’s cupboards weren’t completely left bare. In return, the Bulls took Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn from the Timberwolves, as well as 2017 No. 7 pick Lauri Markkanen. Also of note, Windy City native Dwyane Wade opted in for his 15th NBA season.
Cleveland Cavaliers: 11/27 (H), 12/9 (A), 3/1 (A), 4/6 (H)
Why Watch: Well, you watch the Cavs, of course, because they’ll still have LeBron James. But what about the other guy? Midway through the summer, reports surfaced that James’ fellow All-Star, Kyrie Irving, was dissatisfied with his role with the 2017 Finals runners-up. Cleveland, which parted ways this summer with general manager David Griffin, didn’t do too much to tinker with the core of its roster. The Cavaliers mostly made veteran signings, including Derrick Rose, Jose Calderon, and Jeff Green.
Detroit Pistons: 10/23 (A), 12/2 (H), 1/5 (H), 4/4 (A)
Why Watch: Detroit ended up being a secondary beneficiary of Boston’s pursuit of Gordon Hayward. Looking to clear cap space for the All-Star, the Celtics were forced to deal dependable backcourt stopper Avery Bradley, and the Pistons swooped in to nab him. In the draft, Detroit managed to pluck Duke product Luke Kennard with the 12th pick. A few weeks later, the Pistons inked Saint Joseph’s product Langston Galloway via free agency. Detroit moves into a new downtown venue, Little Caesar’s Arena, this fall.
Indiana Pacers: 11/3 (H), 2/3 (A), 3/13 (H)
Why Watch: It was a bumpy 2016-2017 campaign for Indiana, one filled with increasing doubts about Paul George’s future with the organization. Although the Pacers managed to sneak into the playoffs, they were swept in the first round by Cleveland. On July 1st, in a highly-scrutinized trade, Indiana decided to ship George to Oklahoma City in exchange for Victor Oladipo, and forward prospect Domantas Sabonis (that was all they got). Other off-season departures included Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis, and C.J. Miles. UCLA’s T.J. Leaf emerged as the Pacers’ top draft pick, at No. 18.
Miami Heat: 2/2 (H), 2/14 (H), 2/27 (A), 3/8 (A)
Why Watch: Hoping to lure a big-name talent to South Florida, Miami made an immediate and major push for Gordon Hayward once free agency got underway in July. The Heat, of course, lost out on the swing man, who ultimately decided to join Boston. Miami, though, did wind up taking talent from the Celtics’ roster, signing center Kelly Olynyk to a contract. The Heat also re-upped with Dion Waiters via a long-term deal. One key question the Heat will face this fall is whether they’ll be able to pick up where things left off in the spring, when they finished the season with 30 wins in their final 41 games.
Milwaukee Bucks: 1/20 (H), 1/29 (A), 3/4 (A), 4/11 (H)
Why Watch: Garnering its highest win total (42) in seven seasons, Milwaukee returned to the playoffs for the second time in Jason Kidd’s three-year tenure as head coach, as the organization’s young core further solidified. Giannis Antetokounmpo was tabbed a first-time All-Star in 2017, while Malcolm Brogdon won Rookie of the Year honors. The Virginia product became the first Milwaukee player to earn the award since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) did so in 1970. The Bucks’ moves this off-season were minimal. They drafted Michigan’s D.J. Wilson 17th overall in June.
New York Knicks: 12/25 (A), 2/12 (H), 3/15 (A), 3/28 (H)
Why Watch: Phil Jackson’s out, and the man widely credited with orchestrating Sacramento’s solid 2017 off-season is in. This July, New York hired Scott Perry as its new general manager, just weeks after Perry, a long-time NBA personnel man, helped the Kings land quality talent through the draft. The Knicks let Derrick Rose walk, and deemed French guard Frank Ntilikina, chosen eighth in this year’s draft, a good fit alongside Kristaps Porzingis (who appears to be staying in the Big Apple, despite all the rumors that swirled earlier in the summer).
Orlando Magic: 11/25 (H), 2/24 (H), 3/22 (A)
Why Watch: In the midst of a five-year playoff drought, the Magic opted to overhaul their front office this spring. They tapped Toronto general manager Jeff Weltman to serve as the club’s new president. Weltman then subsequently brought in his counterpart from Milwaukee, John Hammond, to be Orlando’s GM. The drafting of Jonathan Isaac with the sixth overall pick highlighted the Magic’s summer, which also saw the club ink veterans Aaron Afflalo, Shelvin Mack, Jonathan Simmons, and Marreese Speights. South Jersey’s Frank Vogel is back as head coach.
Toronto Raptors: 10/21 (A), 12/21 (H), 12/23 (A), 1/15 (H)
Why Watch: Toronto’s three-year reign atop the Atlantic Division came to an end in 2017, with Boston supplanting the Raptors as regular season champions. Nonetheless, Toronto still enjoyed a stellar campaign, notching 51 victories, which marked the second-highest total in the franchise’s 23-year history. For some time, there was uncertainty in the North whether Kyle Lowry would stay with the club, but he eventually re-signed with the Raptors, as did Serge Ibaka, who was acquired in a February trade. Toronto reshuffled its supporting cast a bit, dealing DeMarre Carroll to Brooklyn, and flipping Cory Joseph to Indiana for C.J. Miles.
Washington Wizards: 10/18 (A), 11/29 (H), 2/6 (H), 2/25 (A)
Why Watch: It was both a bounce-back season and a breakthrough season for Washington, which, one year after missing the playoffs, rebounded for its highest win total (49) in over four decades. With All-Star guard John Wall generating career-highs of 23.1 points, 10.7 assists, and 2.0 steals per game, the Wizards, led by first-year head coach Scott Brooks, took Boston down to the wire in an entertaining seven-game Eastern Conference Semi-Final series. This summer, Wall earned a ‘supermax’ extension, and restricted free agent Otto Porter was retained. Washington also picked up veteran guards Tim Frazier and Jodie Meeks.