The Sixers opened December by fielding a seriously shorthanded team in Boston and losing to the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics.
Their outlook is now much sunnier.
Since the Sixers didn’t make the NBA’s in-season tournament knockout rounds, they got two days of rest followed by two days of practice. And the 3-16 Wizards are on deck Wednesday night at Capital One Arena.
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The 12-7 Sixers’ remaining schedule is the NBA’s easiest in terms of opponents’ winning percentage, according to Tankathon. Their next seven games look especially light on paper. Over the next two weeks, the Sixers will face both Washington and Detroit twice and play Atlanta, Charlotte and Chicago once each.
Those teams are all below .500. Their combined record is 27-70.
The mini-hiatus between games also helped to improve the Sixers’ health picture. Zero of the five players who missed the Boston game appeared on the team’s Tuesday night injury report. Kelly Oubre Jr. is expected to return after an 11-game absence because of a fractured rib. De’Anthony Melton was listed as probable with an illness.
Nick Nurse did note the team has taken a careful approach with Nicolas Batum’s right index finger injury. The Sixers’ head coach estimated Batum participated in “about half” of Tuesday’s practice.
“There’s just really no sense in putting him in the live stuff right now,” Nurse said. “We’re just trying to give him as many days (as possible) to get that (finger) feeling better. Don’t think it’s going to keep him out in any shape or form right now, but just an abundance of caution in not letting it get hit again today.”
Wizards guards Jordan Poole, Landry Shamet and Johnny Davis were listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game.
Washington has the NBA’s worst defensive rating outside of garbage time, per Cleaning the Glass. Joel Embiid scored 48 points against the Wizards (in three quarters) and the Sixers racked up 146 last month in Philadelphia.
None of the above means the Sixers can stroll onto the floor and expect effortless wins. However, it does make self-assessment and internal attention to details a bit more pertinent than usual. In all likelihood, the Sixers will be capable of stacking victories without playing their best basketball.
Nurse on Monday named offensive rebounding and transition defense as intersecting, big-picture areas that the Sixers’ coaching staff has examined lately.
The team’s heightened aggression has yielded strong results on the offensive glass. The Sixers have jumped from 25th last season in offensive rebounding rate to fifth. They've leaked points in transition at times, though. The Sixers rank 22nd in opponents’ points added through transition play.
“You’ve got to be weighing that stuff out,” Nurse said. “Are the offensive rebounds and the opportunities we’re getting from that outweighing some of the defensive transition stuff that we’re giving up? And that’s not that easy to (assess) sometimes, because it feels really awful when somebody leaks out and they get a 1-on-zero and lay it in.
“And then you look down and say, ‘Oh my goodness, we got 26 points on offensive rebounds tonight.’ Twenty-six is more than two, right? Even though two, in the moment, feels really bad. So you’ve got to be careful analyzing some of that stuff, and we’ve been going through some of it.”
That sort of stylistic scrutiny never hurts.
For the Sixers, it’s also nice that it no longer coincides with undermanned outings during a grueling chunk of the schedule.