Before going too far with the 76ers’ recent run, let’s be realistic for a moment.
They entered Wednesday night six games behind the Chicago Bulls for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Following their 94-89 win over the Toronto Raptors, the second-best team in the East, the Sixers improved to 14-26 and gained a half-game on the Bulls. It was the seventh win in nine games for the Sixers.
Way beyond the numbers is this: the Sixers are becoming relevant again in the Philadelphia sports landscape. The crowd of 17,223 was energetic and moved to a fever pitch when Rookie of the Year candidate and possible All-Star Joel Embiid cupped his hands to ears a la Allen Iverson back in the day.
Chants of “Trust The Process” are morphing into “MVP!” for Embiid. The big man was dominant with 26 points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots. This was the 10th straight game Embiid scored 20 or more points without playing more than 30 minutes.
Now the Raptors were on the second leg of a back-to-back trip and forward DeMarre Carroll left the game in the second half with a neck injury.
Every team goes through trials and tribulations in the rigorous NBA.
The Sixers were due for some good fortune after three-plus seasons of hard luck and a bucket full of losses.
“We’re playing with a spirit,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “We’re playing with a defensive mindset. There is a belief within each other that is the best since I’ve been here.”
Rewind to last season where the Sixers began 1-30 and finished a disastrous 10-72. After 37 wins in the two seasons before that, fans had to wonder when this franchise would begin to turn around.
Thanks to Embiid’s unbelievably rapid development, the Sixers are giving their fans plenty to be upbeat about looking ahead.
“The fans are fantastic,” Brown said. “We’re all kind of starving for some success, starving for good feelings and some wins.”
More and more Embiid jerseys are popping up around the Wells Fargo Center. Rightfully so.
Had Embiid been healthy, he would have been the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft. The Sixers were fortunate to grab him at No. 3 and did they ever make the right choice. Was it lucky? Sure. But go back to Andrew Bynum, who never suited up for the Sixers.
With a franchise cornerstone, the Sixers are on their way. Pieces are falling in around Embiid like Dario Saric, Ersan Ilyasova and, eventually, Ben Simmons. The fans are all in.
“I’m trying to give effort not just this game but every game,” Saric said. “I had the opportunity to get blocks and the fans started going crazy. As a player, you like it. Of course you like it.”
There’s a lot to like these days.
The next five games will continue to serve as a litmus test with home games against Portland, the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston coupled with trips to Atlanta and Milwaukee. Nothing will come easy between Jan. 20-27. Compared to the past, this is a welcome change for everyone.