Selfless Sixers are rising to sky-high expectations


We’re now two games into the Tobias Harris era and the returns have been impressive.

The Sixers are now 2-0 with Harris after a 143-120 win over the Lakers Sunday (see observations), with the starting unit playing at a flat-out dominant level when on the floor together. In two games and 30 minutes together, that five-man lineup is a plus-17.

With all of that comes heightened expectations. When Brand made the deal for Harris, many thought it could catapult the Sixers into the top spot in the East. 

It also comes with added pressure, something the Sixers are embracing.

“I’ll just be straight up, honest, the expectations are really high,” Harris said. “I was telling Mike Scott at halftime, I was like, ‘We’re up seven points and we kind of look like we’re down 17.’ But we were just kind of talking about the expectations of the team when you’re going into the game, you’re expecting to impose your will and that’s a good feeling."

What some may view as a daunting challenge to live up to the hype, the Sixers are looking at as an opportunity.

How many players in the NBA are in the position that the Sixers’ five starters currently find themselves in? Other than the Warriors’ starters, how many players find themselves surrounded by this overwhelming amount of talent?

There are certainly still kinks that need to be worked out, but the unselfish brand of basketball these guys are playing is a huge first step.

If any of the players in the starting unit are upset about touches or shots, they sure have a funny way of showing it. The Sixers are third in the NBA averaging 27.4 assists per game. They had 33 on Sunday to just eight turnovers.

At times, their ball movement is mesmerizing. 

“Our culture was built on sharing the ball,” Joel Embiid said. “Making sure the ball goes through everybody’s hands and at the end of it, if they need me or if they need a bucket or if the play is broken down, that’s when I come in … It’s all about sharing the ball.”

While the defense is a little bit behind, you certainly see the potential with all of the length and athleticism the players possess. Much like the selfless play on offense, the effort they're bringing defensively is encouraging.

It’s only two games, but the mind does wander when thinking about how good this unit can be. It’s not like they’re playing the weakest competition. They took down the Nuggets, the second-best team in the West, on Friday. They beat the best player on the planet Sunday.

They face even more stiff competition Tuesday when they host the rival Celtics, who they’ve already dropped two games to this season.

But that was then. This is now.

“It’s only been two games but I think we’ve got a chance,” Embiid said. “We got a lot to work on obviously. Our whole offensive package hasn’t been used. We’ve got a long way to go, but I think the potential we have, especially come playoff time, matching up with other teams, I think we got a chance.”

The Sixers embarked on a brutal 12-game stretch back on Jan. 17. After 11 games, they’re 7-4. With a win over Boston, that number would improve to a remarkable 8-4. 

But it's not just about the here and now. It's about what this team could be come late April and beyond.

“I think as we continue to build our chemistry and grow, it’s only going to be something that, every single night, we’re out here playing for something bigger,” Harris said. “Even being in the huddle with the team, we’re not really playing these games just to win. We’re playing them to win, but also be the best team that we can be all around. We’re just trying to get better each and every nigh, any way possible.”

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