With just five games remaining on their schedule, the Sixers find themselves slotted in at 3rd place in the Eastern Conference standings — a finish that would be about on par with reasonable preseason expectations. It’s a pretty advantageous position to be in when considering the possible opponents of the three seed, which include the following underwhelming candidates: the Detroit Pistons, the Brooklyn Nets and the Miami Heat. In opposition to some hipster NBA takes, I don’t believe any of those teams pose a real threat to the Sixers in a seven-game series.
But before the Sixers can get comfortable with the idea of having to worry about, at most, D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie both having outstanding performances four times in seven games, they’ll need to take care of business down the stretch. The Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers sit just three games behind the Sixers, and both would happily vault Philly in the standings if possible. The good news is that Philly has a host of factors in their favor.
Before we dig into the actual opponents each of the Sixers, the Celtics and the Pacers have remaining, it is important to note that the Sixers have one more game to play than Indiana and Boston, both of whom have only four games to play. The quick math on that:
- The best/worst Philly can finish is 54-28/49-33
- The best/worst both Boston & Indiana can finish is 50-32/46-36
Mathematically speaking, the Celtics or the Pacers would have to be perfect in their last four games (because they play each other, only one of them can be perfect) and the Sixers would have to lose out for one of those teams to pass the Sixers on record alone. What are the chances of that occurring? Frankly, slim.
The Sixers likely have the most favorable run to end the season out of Philly-Boston-Indiana. While the Hawks have been spunky, it’s hard to see a 12th place team defeating the Sixers twice in two weeks. The Bulls are a full-on dumpster fire — our old pal TLC is regularly seeing 20+ minutes for Chicago lately. Jakarr Sampson — still is and will always be my avi, by the way — played 29 minutes for the Bulls just last night in a loss to the Knicks. The Bucks could be a tough task, and a win against the Sixers could clinch the one seed for Milwaukee. Likewise, Miami has something to play for vs. Philly. But those are the only two teams capable of beating the Sixers on a night where things are clicking (recently, a lot to ask apparently, I know).
@ ATL: 68% win probability, -5.0 CARMELO Spread
Vs. MIL: 51% win probability, pick ‘em CARMELO Spread
@ CHI: 82% win probability, -9.5 CARMELO Spread
@ MIA: 63% win probability, -3.5 CARMELO Spread
Vs. CHI: 93% win probability, -16.0 CARMELO Spread
Final Record Prediction: 53-29, 3rd seed
Going off of CARMELO (and common sense), it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Sixers don’t finish as the 3rd seed.
Boston’s got a somewhat frisky bunch to play here. All of the above matchups have playoff seeding implications except @ WAS, as the Magic and the Heat hold out hope of a playoff berth. Boston’s trip to Indiana this Friday should have a playoff atmosphere.
@ MIA: 71% win probability, -5.5 CARMELO Spread
@ IND: 53% win probability, -0.5 CARMELO Spread
Vs. ORL: 79% win probability, -8.0 CARMELO Spread
@ WAS: 65% win probability, -4.0 CARMELO Spread
Final Record Prediction: 49-33, 4th seed (I’m assuming this means that while the CARMELO system places Boston as the favorite in all of their final four games, it expects Boston to drop at least one of those games in the collective.)
If FiveThirtyEight is right on the Celtics, then the Sixers would end up in a tie-breaker scenario with the Celtics if and only if Philly loses out — something the prediction, and functional brains, do not foresee.
The Pacers easily have the most challenging schedule remaining of these three teams. They’ll face off against three playoff contenders as well as a Hawks squad that is 6-4 in its last 10 games. It’s not impossible Indiana wins out, but it is very unlikely when considering that three of their opponents are still jockeying for playoff positioning. They’ll get a decent 2/2 home/road split to end the season.
@ DET: 51% win probability, -0.5 CARMELO Spread
Vs. BOS: 48% win probability (technically, 47.5%), +0.5 CARMELO Spread
Vs. BKN: 77% win probability, -7.5 CARMELO Spread
@ ATL: 65% win probability, -4.0 CARMELO Spread
Final Record Prediction: 48-34, 5th seed
If FiveThirtyEight is right on the Pacers, they would have no shot of passing or even tying the Sixers in the standings.
While the Sixers have played some uninspiring basketball of late, there’s almost no reason to worry in terms of seeding; the Sixers can feel pretty comfortable as they round out the season. A win here or there should be enough to cement themselves as the 3rd seed. Only a colossally poor finish coupled with flawless execution from the Celtics or the Pacers could put the Sixers at a disadvantage. The worst outcome would be the Pacers winning out, while the Sixers lose out. That would place the Sixers either 4th or 5th, and pit them against the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.