August 08, 2018
If those battles between the Sixers and Celtics this past spring prompted memories of a once great rivalry, the NBA has great news for you. Philadelphia and Boston will be at the center of some primetime matchups for the league this season, starting with a pair of games between the opponents on Opening Night and Christmas Day.
The Sixers' spot in the Christmas slate was never really in doubt, with interest in the team soaring after a 52-win season and an All-NBA campaign for Joel Embiid. But playing on the opening night for a second consecutive season says a lot about the league's regard for Embiid, Ben Simmons, and the rest of the talented supporting cast around them. They get to serve as the basketball world's reintroduction to the league.
So of course it had to be against the Celtics. Anyone with a functional set of eyes can see where the conference is headed in the wake of LeBron James' departure. Kawhi Leonard's relocation to Toronto will complicate things, but over the long-term Boston and Philadelphia appear set for a collision course at the top of the Eastern Conference.
It will make for great theater for the league, if perhaps not the ideal setting for a battle with a division rival. With both teams attempting to incorporate big pieces back into their lineups — Gordon Hayward in Boston's case, Markelle Fultz in Philadelphia's — we might not necessarily see them at their best.
But these count in the standings just the same as the wins the Sixers will inevitably pick up down the stretch, so excuses go out the window once tip-off commences.
If you're tuning in for the opener, you may want to prepare yourself for a whole lot of talk about Fultz and Jayson Tatum, by the way. Those two are going to be connected for the duration of their careers, and things aren't getting any easier for the Sixers' guard after Tatum's performance in the playoffs last season. Even Julius "Dr. J" Erving spoke out about the dynamic, in the middle of the series to boot.
Tatum probably should have been the first pick in the draft. He was there, I guess there was just, it was all about the fit. And we took Fultz, Philly took Fultz, and obviously Fultz's whole rookie year — I think he'll be a rookie again next year sorta like Simmons because of the injuries. But Tatum has been awesome, it just seems as though when you get a player who can raise the level of their game at playoff time, you've got somebody special.
Usually after college, it's a struggle to make it to the next level, and that's why there's only a handful of players who really make it to the next level, and now when you make it to the next level and you're able to elevate your game — aka [Donovan Mitchell], Tatum, and a few of the rookies.
When a franchise legend has that to say during a battle with a hated rival, best believe a national broadcast crew is going to harp on this at every opportunity.
The Christmas date will be a bigger draw for some people, and for those of you hanging around the area on Christmas, the 5:30 tip time should give you plenty of time to spend with your family during the day before gathering around the television to boo Al Horford. Isn't that what the holiday season is all about?
They may not be the primetime game on Christmas — LeBron James vs. The Warriors was always going to be the headliner there — but Philadelphia is firmly back in the national spotlight, standing alongside rivals of old. All the losses and frustration of the rebuild feel like a distant memory these days.
And hey, if you're looking for a non-Celtics game to circle on the calendar, the Sixers will be part of another great NBA tradition as well, hosting the Houston Rockets in a primetime matchup on Martin Luther King Day.
You can view the full slate of opening week and holiday games below.
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