After a disappointing end to their 2021-22 season, the Philadelphia 76ers retooled over the offseason and now they’ll again enter the new year with championship aspirations. Before the team can try to advance to their first NBA Finals appearance since 2001, though, they’ll first have to get through the 82-game regular season.
The full schedule for the ’22-23 season was released earlier this week, so now we know exactly where and when the Sixers will play all of those games. While all of the games are important — and interesting — in their own way, some are inherently more exciting than others. Here’s a look at Philadelphia’s five most intriguing games from the upcoming campaign.
Boston Celtics, Oct. 18 (Away)
The Sixers’ upcoming campaign starts out with a bang right out of the gate, as their first game comes against the defending Eastern Conference champion Celtics in Boston. The game will serve as a solid (extremely) early measuring stick for Philly to see how they stack up against the East’s top team from last season. After all, if the Sixers are going to make their first Finals appearance in over 20 years next season they’ll have to get past Boston (and Milwaukee, Miami, etc.) in order to do so.
For what it’s worth, the two teams split their four regular season matchups last season, though both teams made some solid additions over the offseason. The Celtics added Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari to their rotation, while the Sixers signed P.J. Tucker and Danuel House and traded for De’Anthony Melton. Plus, James Harden didn’t play for Philly in any of the four meetings against the Celtics last season, so he will provide a different wrinkle that Boston hasn’t seen alongside Joel Embiid. These two teams have a rich rivalry, so it’s nice that we won’t have to wait too long to see them go at it in the new season.
Milwaukee Bucks, Oct. 20 (Home)
The Sixers won’t have to wait too long for another good test against an Eastern Conference foe, as their second game of the season comes against the Milwaukee Bucks. Had the Bucks been fully healthy in the playoffs last season there’s a real chance that they would have advanced to the NBA Finals for the second straight season, and they project to be a legitimate contender again this season. They have arguably the game’s best player in Giannis Antetokounmpo and a great supporting cast around him. Watching Antetokounmpo and Embiid go at it is always appealing.
The two teams have provided us with some entertaining and memorable games recently, too. Last season, two of their three meetings were determined by a single basket. Plus, who could forget the time that Antetokounmpo took a seat on the court after sinking the Sixers in overtime two years ago?
Hopefully, this early contest between the two teams is another good one.
Brooklyn Nets, Nov. 22 (Home)
Anyone who has been paying attention to the team over the last year knows exactly why this game is on the list — it could be Ben Simmons‘ first time facing off against the Sixers in Philadelphia after he refused to play for the team again until he was ultimately traded to the Nets in February. His behavior prior to the trade catapulted him to the status of one of the most hated athletes in Philadelphia in recent memory, and thus the fans’ vitriol will be palpable when (and if) Simmons takes the floor.
The Nets played in Philadelphia after the trade last season, but Simmons didn’t suit up. Still, that didn’t stop the Philly faithful from letting their feelings for the former prized pick be known, as they booed and heckled him at every possible opportunity. Assuming that Simmons plays this time around, the energy level in the Wells Fargo Center will be off of the charts. Not to mention the fact that the two teams could very well be competing with each other for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference.
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Denver Nuggets, Jan. 28 (Home)
This game represents a matchup between the two best — and most dominant — centers in the game today, Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic. As we know, Embiid finished as runner-up to Jokic in MVP voting in each of the past two seasons, and as such a bit of a rivalry has developed between the two. Since the players compete in two different conferences, they don’t get to face off against each other too often, which makes the times that they do even more special.
Up to this point, the two star centers have only played against each other six total times, with Embiid and the Sixers winning four of those contests. In games played against Jokic, Embiid has averaged 22.2 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.2 blocks per game, while Jokic has averaged 21.5 points, nine rebounds, 7.2 assists and one block per performance against Embiid. They’ve never faced off against each other in the playoffs, and unless the Sixers and Nuggets both make a run to the Finals, that won’t happen this season. So this regular season matchup is the best we’re going to get.
Miami Heat, Feb. 27 (Home)
This is a game that some Sixers players will probably have circled on the calendar, as it’s the team’s first opportunity to exact a bit of revenge on Miami after the Heat eliminated them in six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season. Had Joel Embiid been healthy for the entirety of the series perhaps things would have turned out differently, but hey, we can’t re-write history, and as it stands it was the Heat who ended Philadelphia’s championship aspirations last season. The Heat project to be a legitimate player in the Eastern Conference again, so it will be interesting to see how the teams stack up against each other in a new season following the offseason adjustments that both sides made.
Speaking of offseason adjustments, this game also has an interesting wrinkle to it, as it will be P.J. Tucker’s first game against his former franchise after the Sixers poached him away from Miami in free agency. The Heat weren’t too happy about losing Tucker, as he was a big part of what they did on both ends of the floor, but in this situation one team’s loss is another’s gain. Given this background, both teams might come out with some added motivation for this one.