The Philadelphia 76ers are about in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference, However, Sixers fans like myself hope that this season inches them a little closer to the top, thanks to acquiring a big new star. Fittingly, their first opponent of the year is hoping to do the same thing out West.
The Denver Nuggets are counting on former Sixer Andre Iguodala to be a missing piece, as they try to stay within range of the Western Conference elite. They'll get an early idea on Oct. 31, when they visit Iguodala's old home in Philadelphia. At the least, the Nuggets will know what they have in Iguodala faster than the Sixers will know about Andrew Bynum.
With Bynum out, there are more than a few question marks around the new-look Sixers, who are counting on their new star to make them a contender someday. Iguodala doesn't have those kinds of extreme expectations in Denver, yet the Nuggets would like him to be a valued asset. In both cases, the Sixers and Nuggets need something to shake them up, least they stay in limbo forever.
Philadelphia got within an inch of the Eastern Conference finals last season, but it remains an afterthought in the big picture for now. Denver had their chance a few years ago with Carmelo Anthony on board, but when Anthony forced his way into New York, it left the Nuggets needing to start over. They have stayed afloat, yet they've never come as close to a championship as they did with Anthony.
The Sixers never had an Anthony to carry them until Bynum came along, although his injuries and his inexperience as a No. 1 star make him a gamble. However, he is a gamble Philadelphia had to make, or else it would have stayed on the outside looking in. They were good enough to make the playoffs last year - and get extremely lucky in them - but they needed a Bynum to give them a shot at something more.
The Nuggets didn't need as much of a shot in the arm, as Iguodala doesn't have Bynum-like hype attached to him. Yet since he did make his first All-Star game last year and was just on the gold-winning Team USA, he is coming to Denver after his best season ever. Perhaps he is starting to inch his way onto the A-list - and if he continues that ascent, maybe the Nuggets can continue theirs as well.
With the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets and more in the East, as well as the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and more out West, the Sixers and Nuggets are still on the second tier until further notice. But both franchises hope that their time isn't so far away, and that this season can be a stepping stone to greater things down the line. In any case, they will face each other right off the bat to see just how right they are.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan.
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