Opinion: Are the Sixers the best team in the Eastern Conference?

The dramatic game-winner captured Tobias Harris’ strong conviction in both his skills and how he handles pressure. Harris drilled a 15-foot jumper to lift the Philadelphia 76ers to a 107-106 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.

"That’s a shot I work on time and time again," Harris said. "In those moments, it’s being confident enough to let it go and being okay with the result."

The Sixers seemed elated with the result. Philadelphia (13-6) beat a Lakers team (14-5) that has stood atop the Western Conference all season, had won all 10 of its road games so far and has shown little sign of slowing down after winning the NBA championship just 3½ months ago.

"It’s huge. You got the best team with the best record in the league and they’re the defending champs," Sixers center Joel Embiid said. "It’s going to give us a lot of confidence for the next couple of games."

Tobias Harris with the game-winner for the Sixers! 🔥🔥

🎥: @NBA
pic.twitter.com/dtPoPIqckN

Yet, how the Sixers beat the Lakers will also give them something to think about these next couple of games and beyond. When assessing their big-picture potential, will Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers focus on the bottom-line result, the quality of opponent and Harris’ game-winner? Or will he become consumed with the fact that the Sixers nearly squandered a 16-point lead?

"I’m a coach so it’s obviously the latter," Rivers said. "Not to take anything from them, but I thought it was more self-inflicted."

All of which makes the Sixers’ identity an interesting puzzle to figure out.

Do they have the right personnel and makeup to remain the Eastern Conference’s best team as their record indicates? Or does their roster still need to prove it can stay durable and maximize its chemistry?

"We have the potential," said forward Danny Green. "We have a chance. We have the talent. We have the pieces."

The Sixers sure do.

Tobias Harris (12) and the Sixers celebrate after his game-winning shot. (Photo: Bill Streicher, USA TODAY Sports)

They have Embiid, who has posted career-highs this season in points per game (27.7), field-goal percentage (54.6%), 3-point percentage (40%), free-throw shooting (83.4%) and steals per game (1.2). They have Ben Simmons, whose positional versatility and playmaking leaves Rivers impressed despite a career-low in scoring (13 points per game). They have a potential third All-Star in Harris, whose past stint with Rivers on the Los Angeles Clippers has partly contributed to his ability to expand his game and find the right spots on the floor to become dangerous. They have more shooters (Seth Curry, Green) and defenders (Matisse Thybulle) to make it easier for Embiid and Simmons to operate.

Perhaps that explains why Sixers president Daryl Morey resisted the temptation to reunite with James Harden when he demanded the Houston Rockets trade him. Perhaps that explains why Lakers forward LeBron James views the Sixers as a formidable NBA Finals threat after losing to them.

"We’ll see how the season goes on," James said. "There’s going to be a lot of teams in the Eastern Conference that will be playing championship basketball down the stretch. I know I believe that they are one of those teams."

But can the Sixers beat the other teams?

The Boston Celtics have a young core that has shown continuous improvement in Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, but they lost Gordon Hayward in free agency, and Kemba Walker has nursed various injuries. The Milwaukee Bucks have the two-time defending regular-season MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo and improved depth with Jrue Holiday’s arrival. But Antetokounmpo has regressed statistically this season and has struggled in the two past postseasons. The Brooklyn Nets have three of the most lethal scorers and playmakers in Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. But they have little to offer on defense, and Harden and Irving could eventually have tension over shots.

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