Securing the 1st seed is a top priority for all of the aforementioned teams, especially with the unique formatting of this season. The 1st seed will go against the winner of the 9/10 seed play-in match. For perspective, the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls are currently within said slots.
However, the most valuable aspect of securing the 1st seed isn’t the easier first-round matchup. That can be found within the second round. Assuming the Sixers were to get 1st seed and win their first-round matchup, they would go against the winner of the 4/5 seed matchup. Teams in the running for this area in the standings feature the likes of the Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Boston Celtics, and the New York Knicks.
All of these scenarios would be cakewalks for the second round compared to if the Sixers were to fall to the 2nd or 3rd seed. If the Sixers were to do so, they would have to face one of Milwaukee or Brooklyn in the second round of the postseason. The other of the two would likely be waiting for them for the Conference Finals — making it a far from easy path to their NBA Finals ambitions.
Today we’ll take a look at the remaining schedule; the hardest stretch for the Sixers, where they can capitalize on a run of “easy” games, and where some predict them to finish.
The Hardest Stretch
The Sixers’ scheduling actually made organizing this piece fairly easy, as they are about to embark on their hardest remaining stretch of games in the coming week or two. The Sixers next six games will definitely be the most challenging stretch of games for the team, as they’ll face off against four teams over .500:
4/14 vs. Brooklyn Nets
4/16 vs. Los Angeles Clippers
4/19 vs. Golden State Warriors
4/21 vs. Phoenix Suns
4/22 @ Milwaukee Bucks
4/24 @ Milwaukee Bucks
As you can see, this stretch is far from a piece of cake. Even the “easiest” team here, the Warriors, can’t be counted out with Stephen Curry back into the lineup.
The silver lining here is that all but two of these games will be home games for the Sixers, who have always been a dominant team on their home court. They’ll look to improve their conference-best home record of 20-5 during this stretch.
The most difficult part of this period will be the lone back-to-back games between Phoenix and Milwaukee. Both of these teams have been powerhouses in their respective conferences, and Milwaukee could capitalize on the Sixers’ tired legs. The Sixers have been very willing to sit Joel Embiid during back-to-back sets, and it’s very possible that they could do so again here.
The Remaining Games
The good news for the Sixers is that their remaining schedule is much lighter after the upcoming six games listed above. The Sixers will only have three games against teams currently above .500 — facing the Atlanta Hawks twice and Miami once. Here’s a look at their schedule to finish the season:
4/26 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
4/28 vs. Atlanta Hawks
4/30 vs. Atlanta Hawks
5/2 @ San Antonio Spurs
5/3 @ Chicago Bulls
5/5 @ Houston Rockets
5/7 vs. New Orleans Pelicans
5/8 vs. Detroit Pistons
5/11 @ Indiana Pacers
5/13 @ Miami Heat
5/14 vs. Orlando Magic
5/16 vs. Orlando Magic
The Sixers certainly got lucky to an extent with this schedule. There is almost a guarantee that they’ll look to rest some of their core players before their postseason run. This slate of teams listed above will help the Sixers’ chances of winning will managing their players down the home stretch of the season.
The toughest part of the schedule above would likely be the small road trip featuring the Spurs, Bulls, and Rockets. The Rockets are definitely not looking to make a playoff push at this point, but a back-to-back game in San Antonio and Chicago could spell trouble for the Sixers. Both of those teams aren’t looking to lose, and are expected to go all out in an attempt to make the playoffs. Going from one end of the country to the other in the span of one night doesn’t help either.
There are many reasons to be optimistic about the rest of this stretch, however. If the Sixers can manage to go .500 or better during that tough six-game spell, they can have a large hand in determining where they finish in the Eastern Conference.
Where will the Sixers finish
The Sixers have had friendly projections from a lot of different networks that specialize in predictions. FiveThirtyEight has them finishing with a conference best record of 49-23 — two games ahead of Brooklyn and four games ahead of Milwaukee. The Sixers would have to go 12-6 to achieve a 49-win season. Something that I personally believe is extremely doable if they so please.
Speaking of Milwaukee and Brooklyn, it’s important to factor in those teams as they’ll be the direct competitors in the pursuit of the 1 seed. Tankathon — a site many Sixer fans have called home for years — has a great tool in determining schedule strength. The Sixers are currently ranked 15th in schedule strength, right in the middle of the entire NBA. I would expect that ranking to drop significantly after their next six games. Milwaukee is right in front them at the 16th hardest schedule, while Brooklyn has the 10th hardest.
It’s very possible that the Sixers may have to rely on tie-breakers in the event of a close finish. The Sixers’ 4/14 game against Brooklyn may be the biggest game of the season for them in this regard, as the season series between both teams is split at 1-1. The Sixers will only play them one more time during the regular season, meaning that lone game will decide the tie-breaker between Brooklyn and Philly. Milwaukee is currently 1-0 against the Sixers, and the two remaining games could also be a factor in terms of tie-breakers.
Let’s hope that the Sixers can focus in and finish the season as strong as they’ve started it. Their championship aspirations might depend on it.