The Sixers have already done the heavy lifting, locking up the top seed. But it’s an unusual season in that very few other teams are locked into a seed ahead of today’s zany “literally every team has a game today” slate. You’re probably going to want to get a bit of fresh air today, spend some quality time with the family or your pets. But you may also want to keep an eye on your scores app, to check in on how the playoff bracket is shaping up.
Daryl Morey, Elton Brand, Doc Rivers and your boys have completed step one. They’ve been a ridiculously dominant home team ever since Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were first healthy enough to suit up together and they’ve reached another level this year.
TOBIAS HARRIS FOR THE WIN AGAINST THE LAKERS ... CASH pic.twitter.com/hws1zg3nnx— ESPN (@espn) January 28, 2021
So the road to the finals in the east goes through Philadelphia. But what the heck might that road look like for the Sixers?
Let’s take a peek at a few games that Sixers fans might find intriguing.
Celtics at Knicks
Heading into a game against Indiana last Wednesday, it looked like the Sixers might lock up the top seed, and it looked like the Hawks and Knicks had the inside track for the 4th and 5th seeds. But then the reigning Eastern Conference champions, the Miami Heat made a late-season surge. Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and company not only squeezed their way into the conversation for the 4th or 5th seed, but they also held what felt like a hammerlock on it for a day or two. That started to feel especially unfortunate for the Sixers when Miami smoked them down in South Beach last Thursday.
But things have reshuffled yet again. Because the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Heat last night, it’s now the Knicks who have the inside track for the 4th seed. They have one game against a depleted Boston squad that will be barren of top-end talent to secure it:
Wow - it’s official folks. The Celtics announce they are sitting their starters for today’s game against the Knicks.— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) May 16, 2021
Jayson Tatum (Ankle) - OUT
Tristan Thompson (Pec) - OUT
Kemba Walker (knee) - OUT
Robert Williams (Toe) - OUT
Evan Fournier (Knee) - OUT
Marcus Smart (Calf) - OUT
So let’s assume for a moment the Knicks can beat the likes of this group:
Celtics players available Sunday:— FantasyLabs NBA (@FantasyLabsNBA) May 16, 2021
That would most likely mean the New York Knicks host the Atlanta Hawks in round one, and the winner of that would face off against the Sixers, if Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, and company were themselves able to advance beyond round one.
If that group of green reserves were to somehow pull off the upset today in New York, the Heat would merely have to beat the tanking Detroit Pistons to slide back into a matchup with Atlanta.
If you were a Hawks fan would you prefer to host the Heat or visit the Knicks in round 1?— Liberty Ballers (@Liberty_Ballers) May 15, 2021
(If I had my way, the Knicks win that series against the Hawks in triple overtime of game seven at the Garden and then have to load manage their way through game one against the Sixers in round two).
The Knicks have already logged some legit Tom Thibodeau minutes this year, and we know Joel Embiid has won his share of practices against Nerlens Noel and Norvel Pelle:
The Knicks will open the playoffs against No. 5 seed Atlanta.— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) May 16, 2021
Miami will be seeded sixth and face either Brooklyn or Milwaukee in the first round.
Battle for the 8th seed
Per ESPN’s Tim Bontempts:
“After Washington beat Cleveland on Friday night and the Charlotte Hornets lost in overtime to the New York Knicks on Saturday, the game between the Wizards and Hornets on Sunday afternoon has become the unofficial start of the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. The winner will become the eighth seed, and the loser will likely become locked into the 10th seed, assuming a Pacers victory over the Raptors. — Bontemps”
If one were ballparking this thing, it would appear the Washington Wizards right now have the best chance to win that last playoff spot. The Wizards today will host the Charlotte Hornets. Whoever prevails will finish the regular season as the 8th seed in the East. Normally that would be the end of the story. But because of the play-in tournament, the Sixers will get to kick their feet up and watch said 8th seed defend their playoff berth:
The Hornets and Pacers have both officially lost, which means one thing:— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) May 15, 2021
Wizards/Hornets tomorrow is going to be absolutely bonkers.
The Wizards, Hornets and Pacers will enter the last day of the season tied. Winner of Wizards/Hornets gets the No. 8 seed. Simple as that.
The Sixers could wind up facing any one of the Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards, Charlotte Hornets, or Indiana Pacers. But the winner of this Wizards-Hornets game today will have a solid chance to secure their trip to Broad Street.
Precisely how soon is too soon to begin to worry about the Sixers getting the top seed then having to get through the scorching hot Wizards, then the Hawks, before the chance to take on a fully healthy Nets team or a Bucks team that was good enough to beat those Nets?— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) May 6, 2021
It all begs the question for Eastern Conference play-in tourney teams: would you rather win and have to travel to Philly or Brooklyn, or lose and scoop some ping pong balls for the NBA Draft lottery?
Bradley Beal may suit up after missing three games with a hamstring, and the Hornets played an extended battle yesterday, coming back from down 18 to the Knicks, only to lose in overtime. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the bugs were wiped out for today’s big game. The magic wand-wielders have won 16 of their last 22 games. The Wiz kids are playing more like a 4th seed than an 8th seed.
NBA’s Eastern Conference Play-in Tournament:— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) May 16, 2021
Boston (7) vs. Washington (8)
Indiana (9) vs. Charlotte (10)
The Wizards just beat the Hornets for the East's No. 8 seed.— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) May 16, 2021
Indiana landed at No. 9, Charlotte dips to No. 10.
Boston plays Washington at home in the play-in round. The winner is the No. 7 seed. The loser plays the Indiana/Charlotte winner for the East's last playoff spot.
Battle for the 2 seed
The Bucks really did themselves no favors last night. They didn’t just beat but they beat up on the Jimmy Butler less Heat in a disadvantageous victory. They may have sent some type of “message” or whatever, but their likely road to the finals now could be as difficult as any team in the playoffs. If today goes as expected, the Nets will clinch the 2 seed while hosting the Cavaliers, slating the 3rd seed Bucks for a first-round matchup against Miami. If Milwaukee won that, they’d likely have to beat the Nets in Brooklyn only to then have to visit Philadelphia assuming the Nets and Sixers defend their own territory. Brutal. They should have rested all their starters, secured themselves a matchup against the scrappy but not super talented Knicks while foisting the Heat onto the Hawks in the Sixers’ side of the bracket.
But should the Cavs pull off the unthinkable in Brooklyn, the Bucks would have some incentive to win their game against the Bulls. They could then steal the second seed and push the especially wretched journey onto the Nets instead. (Go Cavs!) So I guess that’s what Milwaukee was thinking.
As a Sixers fan, I certainly wouldn’t mind the Nets, the most talented team in the playoffs, having a tough go.
“Here they come, number one, team of the year”
There is not much incentive for the Sixers to take care of business this evening. But...if they did win this game against the Magic, they would (thinking way down the line) lock-up home-court should the unlikely event of a Sixers-Clippers final take place. They can’t quite catch the 50 win teams, the Suns or Jazz. But they could overtake the Clippers in the standings.
It’s certainly not a reason to play any key stars who might need a rest day. It’s been a grueling season. But being able to say “we have home court throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, and we would have it against the odds on favorites (Doc Rivers’ former team) to win the West in L.A.C.” is a mouthful with a sweet ring to it. See what I did, sweet ring?
Here’s how I’m rooting today:
Go Knicks, beat the Celtics.
Go Hornets, I’d rather scheme for Terry Rozier and LaMelo Ball than Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal.
Go Cavaliers Beat the Nets and force Brooklyn into the third seed against Miami before the Nets have had a chance to build chemistry among their big three.
Go Bucks, steal the 2nd seed from the Nets.
Go Thunder, by beating the Clippers the Sixers wouldn’t have to win against Orlando.
Go Sixers reserves! Beat Orlando while allowing the starters to rest up.