The Philadelphia 76ers have officially locked into the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket, meaning they are due to face the 6th seed in the first round of the 2019 NBA playoffs. While the exact team to lay claim to 6th place is still in question, the field has been narrowed to just two teams: the Orlando Magic and the Brooklyn Nets.
The Sixers have gone head-to-head against both the Nets and the Magic four times this season, and both series have split 2-2. The box score results of those games, courtesy of Basketball Reference:
The go-to question when evaluating Sixers’ losses has rightfully become, “But was Joel Embiid active?” During each of the losses above, Joel did indeed play.
The Nets and the Magic are currently tied in the win-loss column at 41-40. However, Brooklyn won the season series over the Orlando, giving Brooklyn the edge should a tie-breaker be necessary — the seeding would go to a tie-breaker if these two teams both win their respective final game.
Road map to vs. BKN
Brooklyn’s last game of the season is against the Miami Heat. The Heat are still clinging to hope for a playoff birth (the 8th seed) with two games to play, so there’s a chance they have something to play for when they travel to Brooklyn. The Heat are skidding though, as they’re 4-6 in their last 10 games and sport a four-game losing streak.
FiveThirtyEight projects Brooklyn as 6-point favorites against Miami, giving the Nets a 73% win probability.
If Brooklyn wins against the Heat, the Sixers will face the Nets in the opening round regardless of the result of the Magic’s final game. If the Nets drop their game against the Heat, then a Sixers matchup versus the Magic is in play.
Road map to vs. ORL
The Orlando Magic will travel to Charlotte to take on the Hornets for the Magic’s final game. Like the Miami Heat, at this moment the Hornets still have a chance at making the playoffs via the final seed — so the Magic could have frisky competition on their final night of the regular season. The Hornets are 7-3 in their last 10 games and are currently riding a three-game win streak.
FiveThirtyEight’s model isn’t nearly as confident in victory for the Magic as it is for the Nets. In fact, it technically places the Magic as slight underdogs at -0.5, with only a 48% win probability.
If the Magic are able to triumph over the Hornets, then they’ll need the Nets to lose to the Heat for Orlando to move up in the standings and face the Sixers in the opening round. Any other if-then combination results in a Philly-Brooklyn series.
I, and I think I’m part of a crowd on this, expect a Sixers-Nets opening round. This seems to concern some factions of Sixers fandom, but it shouldn’t. While the Sixers’ kryptonite on defense has been volume-scoring guards, Spencer Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell themselves are not capable of beating the Sixers four times in seven games. The Nets simply do not have a player capable of guarding Joel Embiid and have much less top-end depth compared to the Sixers. The Nets are scrappy — maybe they can steal a game or two from the Sixers. But a gentleman’s sweep is very much in play for this series.
As for the Magic, I find them even less threatening than the Nets.