Sixers' 2014-15 schedule and predictions

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Sixers' 2014-15 schedule and predictions

The NBA schedule was released Wednesday evening. Like the NFL, the NBA made a big deal of it and did a one-hour show on the league’s television network.

The season opens Oct. 28 with the defending-champion Spurs against the Mavericks in a Lone Star state showdown. The Cavaliers and Bulls will play each other for the first time on Halloween night. Christmas Day -- the league’s annual showcase -- will feature all the expected storylines: LeBron James and the Cavs take on the Heat; Thunder vs. Spurs; Warriors vs. Clippers.

Not listed for any of that: The Sixers. You are no doubt shocked.

This feels like a missed opportunity for the NBA. What, no Timberwolves-Sixers clash on Christmas? Sure, Thad Young said he didn’t know anything about a trade to the Timberwolves for Anthony Bennett, but come on. That would make him the only guy who doesn’t think something might happen. (It’s a good idea for the Sixers, by the way.) Imagine the inflated ratings for a Young-Bennett meeting. The NBA is totally missing out on tens of extra people.

Or what about a Bucks-Sixers game? Think of the advanced billing. The two worst teams in the NBA a year ago meet on Christmas Day in … [dramatic pause] Bricks for Picks. They could have Bill Murray reprise his role and give it the Frank Cross/Scrooged promo treatment. It sells itself.

For added entertainment, there could be a halftime trivia contest consisting of questions about the CBA, the salary cap and arcane league rules. On one side, Sam Hinkie. On the other, all the general managers who pushed for the ridiculous lottery reform proposal. Winner gets to decide what happens to the lottery, and when. Tell me you wouldn’t watch that. Even Alex Trebek and Sean Connery would tune in.

Ah well. Some Sixers’ dates of interest:

• The Sixers open the season Oct. 29 on the road against Indiana. Then they head to Milwaukee before returning to Philly. Without Paul George and Lance Stephenson, maybe the Sixers squeak out a win against the Pacers. But maybe not. Call it 0-2 to start.

• Like last season, the Sixers will play their first home game against the Miami Heat. Unlike last season, James will not be present. And unlike last season, when the Sixers somehow beat the Heat and started the year 3-0, they’ll probably lose. Because they are not good. That's analysis. You're welcome. Call it 0-3 to start -- or 0-4, actually, with the Rockets coming to town in the next game.

• The Sixers play the Magic in the fifth game. If they don’t win that one, they’re probably looking at mid-November, when they host the Celtics, before they have a shot to get a victory. Added bonus: Evan Turner returns to Philly, only he’ll be bricking three-pointers in Boston green instead of Sixers red. Everyone wins that night.

• James and the Cavs come to Philly on Jan. 5. That gives all the faux Heat fans in the area some time to convert to Cleveland gear.

• If everything goes to plan and Young is flipped to Minnesota for Bennett, then Young will return as a member of the T-wolves on Jan. 30. Maybe he’ll get a video montage. If Andre Iguodala got one, Thad gets one.

• The Clippers play the Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center on March 27. If you like stars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin should be in attendance. If not, hey, look at that, it’s Spencer Hawes.

• Oh, and the Sixers have a seven-game road trip that will keep them out of town for Christmas and New Year’s. Lucky them.

So that brings us to the prediction portion of the program. The Sixers have the worst odds to win the NBA championship this season. They’re listed at 300/1 with the Bucks. Poor Milwaukee. (Has that city discovered the wheel? Or fire?) The Sixers won 19 games a year ago. That’s about the right ballpark this season. After going through the schedule and doing the win-loss thing -- I lead a full life -- I have the Sixers going 21-61. Two more wins. That’s called progress.

Don’t worry. The Sixers should be the worst team in the NBA this year. The Bucks, despite being lumped with the Sixers in terms of title odds, have appreciably more talent on the roster -- in that they have talent beyond three players (or two and a half in the Sixers' case, depending on how you feel about Bennett). There’s not another team in the NBA that should come anywhere close to being as bad as the one Philly has right here. Rejoice. Own it. The future will be upon you soon enough.

In a predictable development, certain prognosticators have the Sixers finishing last in the reconfigured and suddenly interesting Eastern Conference. After (seconds of) consideration, I concur. My far-too-early predictions for the East:

1. LeBron James (58-24): LeBron James, Kevin Love, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and LeBron James. Cleveland is the best team in the conference.

2. Chicago Bulls (56-26): Even after trading Loul Deng, and even after Derrick Rose went down again, they were still good last year. Now Rose is (ostensibly) healthy. They went out and got Pau Gasol and Doug McDermott. And they still have one of the best defensive and passing centers in the league in Joakim Noah. Love the Bulls.

3. Toronto Raptors (49-33): They didn’t do much in the offseason -- except re-sign Kyle Lowry. Which is all they really needed to do.

4. Atlanta Hawks (47-35): Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap and (a healthy) Al Horford as the starters. Thabo Sefolosha, Adreian Payne (love me some Adreian Payne), Pero Antic, Kent Bazemore and some combination of Shelvin Mack/Dennis Schroder off the bench. That’s a good team in the East. They make the jump this year.

5. Washington Wizards (46-36): Do not mess with The Polish Hammer.

6. Charlotte Hornets (45-37): The Hornets are starting to shape up. Like the Lance Stephenson addition. Really like the contract.

7. Miami Heat (43-39): Still a team that plays basketball.

8. Brooklyn Nets (41-41): Positive: Brook Lopez will be back. Negative: Paul Pierce won’t. Positive: Hey, Deron Williams looks healthy(ish). Negative: They have no draft picks until the rapture.

9. Detroit Pistons (40-42): Sleeper team for the eighth seed. Stan Van Gundy knows what he’s doing. He gets a pass for giving Jodie Meeks a three-year deal worth $19 million. Chalking it up to just-took-the-job jitters. SVG will settle down.

10. New York Knicks (38-44): Carmelo Anthony can dry his tears with $1,000 bills. (Do they make $1,000 bills? I could consult Google but … nah.)

11. Indiana Pacers (36-46): All the Roy Hibbert they can handle. What a grim situation.

12. Milwaukee Bucks (30-52): Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to be a star pretty soon. Jabari Parker will add much-needed scoring. Larry Sanders has issues, but he and John Henson give the Bucks some serious rim protection. Brandon Knight was OK last year (that’s a compliment). Ersan Ilyasova … still has potential. Could be worse.

13. Boston Celtics (28-54): Without Rajon Rondo, this team would completely crater. Did you know they gave Avery Bradley a four-year deal worth $32 million? Avery Bradley couldn’t believe it either.

14. Orlando Magic (27-55): That’s four more wins than they had a year ago. They might throw a parade.

15. Philadelphia 76ers (21-61): Asset acquisition continues. Smile.

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

GALLOWAY, N.J. — Nerlens Noel’s recent comments on the logjam of big men on the Sixers' roster did not come as news to head coach Brett Brown. While Noel had not been this publicly outspoken on the issue, he and Brown have been having open discussions about it. 

“I have been talking to Nerlens a lot and I have a fondness for him,” Brown said Tuesday on the first day of training camp. “I don’t begrudge Nerlens Noel at all for what he said. I don’t have any problems with it.”

The Sixers' crowded frontcourt this season is a continuation of last season’s conundrum in which Brown was tasked with playing Noel and Jahlil Okafor, two natural centers, together. The depth has increased with the return of Joel Embiid and additions of Dario Saric and Ben Simmons. 

So when Noel doubled down on Monday by saying, "I don't see a way it can work,” Brown recognized where the center's opinions were coming from as he enters his fourth season in the NBA. 

“I feel if we do anything well, we communicate with our players freely,” Brown said. “It is one hundred percent transparent — hard conversations ahead, easy conversations ahead. I have spoken with Nerlens about this a lot. 

“My messaging and my mood and attitude and things that come out of my mouth haven’t changed once. I feel very confident that I’m giving him the advice that he should hear from me and it still allows me to do my job. 

“We have talked about it freely, like I have talked about it with Jahlil and Joel. Those situations are part of pro sports. They’re ever-present with me and us right now.”

Noel has been a rare mainstay among a revolving door of players over the past three years. He is in a unique situation with Brown in that the two have experienced a long list of the team’s ups and downs together. Noel feels comfortable talking honestly with Brown about his viewpoints. 

“I’ve known Brett probably longer than most guys here and we’ve built a different type of relationship,” Noel said. “It’s been very front and forward and we talk and we keep it real. That’s what he’s been doing with me and that’s why I’m able to continue to talk to him about myself and him just telling me what position I’ll be in — he’ll try to put me in — to succeed.”

With Brown having an understanding of Noel, his focus is on what Noel can bring to the team this season. He believes Noel has an edge over Embiid and Okafor for minutes early on because Noel is the only one among the trio starting camp without restrictions from previous injuries. 

There is a tough competition for playing time among the bigs, and camp is about proving oneself through basketball, not through personal opinions. Brown was impressed on the first day of camp by the manner in which Noel approached the morning practice amid the comments.

“He has handled it with me and in the training session today like a pro,” Brown said. “He came to mean it. He didn’t back down at all. There was no moping or sulking or him being stubborn. He played. That’s what he has to do. I think that’s a real reflection of anybody of how you handle adversity. Today he handled it like a true pro and a true competitor.”

Bovada projects Nets, not Sixers, to finish at bottom of division, conference

Bovada projects Nets, not Sixers, to finish at bottom of division, conference

The Sixers finished in the basement of the NBA standings last season with a league-low 10 wins. But with the influx of young talent and addition of a couple veterans to the roster, the Las Vegas oddsmakers are betting on the Sixers to make some strides upward in the 2016-17 standings.  

Last week, the WestGate Superbook in Las Vegas set the Sixers' over/under for wins this season at an optimistic 27½, which was the fourth-lowest projection in the league.

Similarly, while Bovada is projecting another season of basketball filled with mostly losses in Philadelphia, the sportsbook doesn't view the Sixers as a shoo-in to finish as the league's worst team for the second consecutive year.

Per Bovada, the Sixers have the fourth-longest odds (125/1) to capture the Atlantic Divison title for the first time since 2001-02, beating out the Nets (250/1) by a considerable margin.

The favorite to win the division is the Celtics at 20/21, trailed closely by the defending division champion Raptors (21/20). The Knicks are between the Raptors and Sixers at 10/1.

The Sixers (150/1) also edged out the Nets (200/1) in odds to win the Eastern Conference championship. The two teams in the conference directly ahead of the Sixers in that futures bet are the Hornets (100/1) and Magic (50/1).

The Cavaliers are the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference at 5/11, followed by the Celtics (5/1) and Raptors (14/1).

Least surprising of all futures odds, Bovada has the Sixers tied with four other teams for the longest odds to win the NBA title. The Nuggets, Kings, Nets and Suns were tied with the Sixers at 500/1 odds to win the Larry O'Brien trophy.

The early favorites to win it all are the same two teams that met in the 2016 NBA Finals. The Warriors are alone at top with the shortest odds at 4/5 trailed by the Cavaliers at 3/1.