In 2008 Phil Jackson defined how to spot a contender in the regular season. The Sixers at 39-17 have a chance to meet that criteria tonight versus the Golden State Warriors.

"You must win 40 games before you lose 20 to be seen as an elite team" - Phil Jackson

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Does this automatically mean the 76ers will win a title this season? Obviously not, but meeting this bar puts them into that rarified set of teams that have a legitimate chance. The Brooklyn Nets are 38-19 in the east and remain the only other eastern conference team with a shot to pass this bar. Brooklyn must win its next two games to meet the criteria.

Out west, three teams, the Utah Jazz (42-15), Phoenix Suns (40-16), and Los Angeles Clippers (40-19), have already met the criteria. The Lakers still loom as a sleeping giant as they hope to walk into the postseason with a healthy Lebron James and Anthony Davis.

Daryl Morey has spoken at length about being in a position to compete for the championship. His moves in the past indicated a willingness to swing big when he felt his team was close. This season the changes have been more subtle, including a move for George Hill at the trade deadline and picking up Anthony Tolliver as a free agent. You get the sense that Morey evaluates what he has this season while retaining "optionality" for a home run swing in the offseason.

Doc Rivers, on the other hand, is not wasting any time. Rivers is playing to win now, as evidenced by his preference for veterans such as Mike Scott and Dwight Howard.

The 76ers have an MVP finalist in Joel Embiid. Embiid is averaging 30 points per game at a position that forces opposing teams to play a unique game plan against Philadelphia. Adding to that, the Sixers have a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Ben Simmons, a player who can wreck an opposing team's offensive game plan in the final quarter by taking away their best offensive player.

Despite the consternation and debate about Simmons, there are very few players in the league who take away the other team's hot hand regardless of that player's position. Simmons is virtually unique in that regard. When asked in February about Simmons as a defender, Rivers compared him to Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, who won multiple championships with defensive versatility.

"He is such a unique defender." Said Rivers, "Most of the great defenders guard their position, and they do a great job. Ben is a chameleon, and Ben guards one through five. And we're not scared to put Ben on one through five."

Rodman, crazy in a defensive way, not as a player completely different players, but Dennis could guard one to five. Now then you just throw him on, you know, whoever had it going. So I guess you can go as far back dominant. Scottie Pippen you know, is in that category as well so in there are very few people. I'm happy people are finally starting to notice it. You know, that's nice to hear. Doc Rivers comparing Ben Simmons 2/13/21

You get the sense that Rivers has no intention of using this year as a development year and will coach this team to go all the way to the NBA finals. And according to Phil Jackson, he's about to pass a major regular-season milestone in that pursuit.

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