We have just three games left in the regular season and there is still plenty of movement possible in the standings. Currently, the Boston Celtics, at 50-30, hold a half-game lead for second place in the Eastern Conference over the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers, who are tied at 49-30. At season’s end, the Sixers would lose the tiebreaker to both the Celtics and the Bucks so they’ll need to finish ahead of them in the win column to vault above them. Let’s take a look at the remaining schedules for the three teams:
As you can see, the Bucks and Celtics play each other next, a game happening tonight on TNT. That head-to-head matchup means that a 3-0 finish for the Sixers would mean no worse than the third seed in the East. The Sixers should definitely be shooting for at least the three spot, as, presumably, the Toronto Raptors will finish ahead of the Chicago Bulls in terms of the fifth and sixth seeds.
The Bulls represent a much better matchup for Philadelphia. The Sixers have swept the four-game season series with Chicago, with the Bulls having had absolutely zero answers for how to slow down Joel Embiid. Chicago is also dealing with injuries to core pieces, whether it’s Lonzo Ball now officially ruled out for the season with his knee injury, or Zach LaVine playing through his own knee issue at less than 100 percent. Plus, there’s the whole ‘Matisse Thybulle ineligible to play in Toronto’ factor which also comes into play tonight.
With home games against the Pacers and Pistons to finish out the season, tonight is far and away the toughest remaining test for the Sixers to achieve that 3-0 finish (although we know not to count out Detroit). The Raptors are 2-1 against the Sixers already this season, including a win in Philadelphia just a couple weeks ago with Joel Embiid and James Harden both playing. Toronto is well-coached by title winner and self-brand promotor Nick Nurse. They have an army of long-limbed, athletic forwards to wreck havoc defensively, and guards in Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. not the least bit scared to let the ball fly from deep. The Sixers would be favored in a postseason series against Toronto, but it’s a matchup I would certainly like them to avoid. A win tonight would go a long way towards achieving that goal.
The other storyline to watch tonight is Joel Embiid’s quest for both the MVP and the scoring title. As our Dave Early detailed yesterday on the site, the big man recently pulled back in front for the scoring crown, something that would be a nice narrative feather in his cap for MVP considerations. Toronto is a team Joel has struggled against at times in the past, although he had a 36-point outing against the Raptors back in December. Marc Gasol isn’t walking through that door, though, so JoJo should do just fine tonight, even if Nurse knows how to scheme against him as well as anyone.
I’d expect playoff-like intensity tonight between two teams with a lot to play for as the regular season approaches its conclusion. Buckle up, should be a fun one.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Toronto Raptors
When: 7:30 pm ET
Where: The North
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic