Heading into the 2019-20 NBA season there was plenty of talk about the Philadelphia 76ers potentially competing for the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The team was coming off a seven-game series with the world champion Toronto Raptors, they had spent big in free agency, and Brett Brown was making some brash preseason statements. However, nine months later and it seemed like it would take a borderline miracle for the team to even get a singular home playoff series.
Due to COVID-19, the NBA is finishing the season out in a figurative “bubble” and seeding really doesn’t matter all that much anymore. Home court advantage doesn’t exist (unless you count hotel quality?), and zero fans will be allowed to attend games. However, the Sixers doing their very best to set themselves up with an easier first-round matchup would go a long way towards a deep playoff run.
While the league wide hiatus was obviously not something anyone wanted to see, it all seemed to work in the favor of the Sixers. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid got plenty of time to rest up and heal their injuries, and now some of their top competition won’t even be participating in the remainder of the season.
As of July 3rd, Pacers’ star shooting guard Victor Oladipo has decided to opt out of the Orlando bubble restart. Oladipo is still currently nursing a rehabbed knee and is likely eyeing up a departure from Indiana in the upcoming offseason. The Sixers are currently tied with the Pacers at 39-26. Assuming Indiana struggles in their return to action due to Oladipo not being in attendance, the 76ers could quickly jump them in the standings.
Looking even further up the table, the 4th seed Miami Heat are having their own respective roster struggles. All-Star center Bam Adebayo and rookie guard Kendrick Dunn both did not make the trip to Orlando on Friday, likely pointing to the fact that they either had COVID-19 or were in close contact with someone who did. With so much uncertainty regarding the virus, there’s simply no guarantee when/if the duo will join their teammates.
The entire Sixers roster is scheduled to be available in Orlando (outside of Zhaire Smith & their newest signing Ryan Broekhoff) which immediately gives them an advantage over the Heat and the Pacers. While seeding really doesn’t matter, that extra confidence boost of being a top-four seed would do wonders for a Sixers team that has been hammered with criticism all year long.
Beating up on injured/depleted teams is never fun, but at this point in time you simply have to play the hand you’re dealt if you’re Brett Brown and the Sixers.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports