After Exceeding Expectations in November, Sixers' Schedule Lightens

Thursday night's Sixers loss in Boston was one of their uglier games of the season. No Joel Embiid, jump shots didn't fall, Ben Simmons never really got his offensive game going.

But even though the Sixers closed out November with a bit of a dud, the first month was overwhelmingly positive. 

48-win pace
The Sixers ended November with a 12-9 record. No, that's not super impressive, but it's a 48-win pace. If I told you before the season the Sixers could win 48 games, you'd have taken that in a heartbeat, right?

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It's not just the 48-win pace, though. It's the fact that the Sixers went 12-9 despite playing one of the league's toughest early-season schedules.

Mostly done with the top tier
The Sixers have already played the Warriors, Rockets and Celtics twice apiece. They've faced the Cavs once. Those are the four best teams in the NBA. They went 1-6, but the more important consideration right now is that the Sixers are finished with seven of the 12 total games against that quartet.

Those games alone against the Warriors, Rockets, Cavs and Celtics represented exactly one-third of the Sixers' first-month schedule. There were several other challenging games as well - at Washington (close loss), at Toronto (blowout loss), at Detroit (win), vs. Washington (win). 

The only real layup game the Sixers had in November was against the doormat Hawks. They handled their business, winning by 10.

Beating up on mediocrity
Another November storyline that stuck out was the Sixers' ability to dominate teams in that middle-of-the-pack tier. They beat the Jazz twice, by 21 and seven. They beat the Blazers by 20. They beat the Magic by 19. They beat the Pacers by 11. They beat the Clippers (who were healthier then) by four.

The wins against Portland and Utah stuck out, in particular, because those are two teams likely to finish around .500. The Sixers' pasting of them both is a sign that this team can indeed exceed .500 by a handful of games.

Moving forward
The Sixers play 15 games in December and seven of them are against good competition.

Those tough games are:

• Dec. 2 vs. Detroit
• Dec. 9 at Cleveland
• Dec. 10 at New Orleans
• Dec. 12 at Minnesota
• Dec. 15 vs. OKC
• Dec. 21 vs. Toronto
• Dec. 23 at Toronto

The other eight games - Suns, Suns, Kings, Lakers, Bulls, Knicks, Blazers, injury-ravaged Nuggets - are all very winnable. Anything less than 6-2 in these eight games would be disappointing.

December looks like another month in which the Sixers should go three or so games over .500.

If they do, they'll reach the New Year with a record around 21-15.

JJ Redick's first month with the Sixers might end up being his worst. He averaged 15.4 points but shot just 42.3 percent from the field, his worst rate in the last nine seasons. 

He also shot 40.3 percent from three, an impressive mark but one below his standard. The previous three seasons, he shot 44.6 percent from three. 

Redick's touch from three should improve, though it stands to reason Robert Covington's will regress the other way. Covington, who takes more contested threes than practically anyone in the NBA, was at 46.2 percent from three through 18 games but has gone just 1 for 14 in the last two. Overall, he's at 41.7 percent and will likely end up around 40. His previous career-best mark from beyond the arc was 37.4 percent in 2014-15.

There will be other ups and other downs from other players along the way. Theoretically, Markelle Fultz should at some point help the second unit, which is badly in need of some juice.

Simmons and Embiid
Simmons and Embiid obviously have high floors on any given night. 

In Simmons' worst game of the season, he had 10 points, eight rebounds, two assists and three steals in 35 minutes. He ended his first month in the NBA averaging 18.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists.

In Embiid's worst game of the season, he had 12 points, 7 rebounds, two assists, a steal, a block and seven turnovers. That was a clear outlier game for him. In his second-worst game, he had 11 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block. 

Both players are locks to stuff the stat sheet every night and there's really no major regression to expect. If anything, the one facet that should regress (in a positive way) is Embiid's efficiency from three. He's just 13 for 51 (25.5 percent) from beyond the arc this season. He's been too strong on most of his misses. Given how many of them are open looks when the center defending him is slow to get to the arc, Embiid should have more success from three as the season goes on. He shot 36.7 percent from three last season and averaged 1.2 makes per game.

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