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The Sixers, playoff seeds and next steps

Things to think about as the Sixers sit half a game away from first in the Eastern Conference.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

After a blowout win last night against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Sixers have nine games left (five on the road and four at home), and they are currently sitting half a game out of dethroning the Miami Heat for the first spot in the Eastern Conference. The toughest matchups across the nine-game span are the next two, which are against the Suns and Bucks. The question, then, is this: is it worth it to give Joel Embiid and James Harden a rest at the expense of potentially relinquishing the one seed going into the playoffs?

Here are some things the think about.

Bench player shine

Throughout the course of this season, we’ve seen a plethora of role changes, hot and cold streaks, and chemistry development from the bench players. Having said that, it seems like nothing is permanent other than the starting lineup. From Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton duking it out for a consistent rotation spot to the infinite search for an effective center during non-Embiid minutes, the Sixers have a lot to figure out when the starting five step off the court.

Despite the constant ebb and flow of the reserves, it’s worth noting that when they’re on, they’re on. Just the other night we saw them take down the Miami Heat without the team’s two superstars, so it’s obvious that they can compete with the league’s top-level talent. If Doc decides to rest Joel and James following the Suns and Bucks games, it might pose a win-win scenario: the bench players can solidify their rotation positions for the playoffs and, if the Sixers nab the one seed, compete to maintain it. Who knows, maybe we’ll get to see some long overdue Bball Paul and C-Bass minutes.

Injury management

It’s no secret that Joel Embiid and James Harden are a little banged up. Between Joel’s back soreness and James’ hamstring, it would probably be wise to sort those injuries out before the playoffs start. I think a few games of rest and recovery against teams like the Pacers, Pistons, and even Toronto are warranted. If Doc decides to stagger the two of them sitting out game by game, which is a likely scenario that favors Harden’s absence more because of his injury’s status, it really wouldn’t be a terrible thing.

Matchups

The other night on TNT, I listened to Dwayne Wade and Shaq discuss the standings in the Eastern Conference, which led to Doc’s decision to rest Joel and James against the Heat. Shaq recalled how Phil Jackson would jockey for playoff spots during his stint with the Lakers, and his point was that it worked for winning championships. He then talked about how when he and Flash were on the Heat, they would have to go through Detroit to get to the NBA Finals because there was simply no way around them. This comparison was a clear reference to the Nets, and Diesel’s thoughts will probably hold true about an inevitable Sixers-Nets matchup at some point in this year’s playoff run, especially if the Sixers clinch the one or two seed. However, if the Sixers strategize by resting their stars to purposely fall toward the three or even four seed, then they can hope for a better matchup against a team like Cleveland or Chicago in the first round.

Mentalities

D-Wade, on the other hand, disagreed with Shaq’s attitude toward resting stars to jockey for playoff seeding. He proposed that it’s a “loser mentality” to jockey for position and disrupts the team’s chemistry as they learn how to win together. While I understand both sides of the argument about matchups versus mentalities, I think clinching either the one or two seed almost guarantees a first round against the Nets, assuming the Nets win their games during the play-in. Like I mentioned earlier, if Doc decides to rest his stars for a few of the remaining games and they lose a few of them, the Sixers would probably be hovering around the three or four seed where they would likely play the Bucks, Cavaliers Bulls, or Celtics. While each of those potential series deserves its own breakdown, I think the Nets seem like they’ll be the Sixers’ first-round opponent as things stand now. Personally, I want a Sixers-Nets first round series because it’ll really test what this team is made of in crunch time, and I think they’ll rise to the occasion after how badly the Nets embarrassed them on March 10 at home. Drawing on the words of Ja Morant, I think this Sixers team is going to climb up the chimney, ‘cause we ain’t ducking no smoke.