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Philadelphia 76ers Face a Tough Schedule Ahead

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COMMENTARY | Eight games away from the exact middle of the Philadelphia 76ers' season and the team has yet to establish itself as a playoff team, let alone a championship contender.

After heightened preseason expectations the team is 15-18 and sits just percentage points ahead of the also-struggling Boston Celtics for the eighth and final spot for the playoffs.

December saw the team hit its roughest stretch yet. Philadelphia went 4-11 in December, including five in a row from December 12 to December 19. The team is 1-1 in the new year. The Sixers had to play four back-to-backs in their past 17 games and have played six straight on the road.

It doesn't get any better the rest of the month.

The team finishes its road trip with two more games, another back-to-back. There are a total of three back-to-backs Philadelphia must play. In the next 11 games, Philadelphia will face eight teams over .500.

Of the teams on the schedule in January that Philadelphia has already played this season, the Sixers are 4-6 against those teams, with two of those victories coming against the Toronto Raptors.

The gauntlet starts Friday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the defending Western Conference champions and current Western Conference leaders.

The team will have to go up against the San Antonio Spurs (twice), the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies.

The strength of those three teams presides in their dominant big men.

Tim Duncan is one of the leaders of the Spurs. He's second on the team in points (18.0), is averaging the most minutes and rebounds since the 2009-2010 season and is averaging the most points since the 2008-2009 season.

Memphis boasts both Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, two mammoths in the paint that have helped the Grizzlies start the season 20-9, despite an earlier loss to the 76ers December 26.

Houston's Omer Asik is proving to be a fantastic signing and is enjoying the best season of his three-year career. The seven-footer was impressive in Houston's 125-103 victory December 19 over the Sixers. He scored 17 points and added 15 rebounds against Philadelphia.

The 76ers are small and don't pose much of a threat from their low post players. Philadelphia is 18th in the NBA in rebounds per game and 15th in blocks per game.

The trio of Lavoy Allen, Kwame Brown and Spencer Hawes will have its hands full against such strong and talented big men.

The team will have to go up against three of the top five scorers in the NBA -- New York's Carmelo Anthony, Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and Houston's James Harden.

Philadelphia has come up against New York twice this season, losing by 16 and 22 points respectively. And that was before Amar'e Stoudemire had returned from injury.

The going just gets tougher for Philadelphia. The team will have to improve in all facets of the game to compete in the next month and improve its place in the standings.

Good big men, scorers and overall teams await the Sixers. Is Philadelphia ready to turn it up a notch?

Phil Shore lives in New Jersey and is the creator and editor of Shore Thing Sports blog. He's been published in The Boston Globe, Philly.com, FoxSoccer.com, LaxMagazine.com and New England Lacrosse Journal.

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