Now that the top seed in the Eastern conference is secured for the Sixers, the team is now focused on higher goals than the regular season.
For the first time in 20 years, the Philadelphia 76ers have clinched the top seed in the East finishing atop the competitive conference with nearly 50 wins. The achievement caps what can only be described as a successful first regular season under head coach Doc Rivers.
Doc Is Happy But Not. Satisfied
Stepping into a great situation with two budding stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in tow, Rivers quickly rallied the Sixers together as he prepared them to chase the title they have coveted for so long. Rivers was proud of his group for topping the East but remained focused on the bigger picture.
“It’s an accomplishment,” Rivers said following the victory over the Magic. “I don’t want to downplay it, but I told our guys to enjoy; I don’t want to call it a moment, I told them to enjoy the second because it’s not what we want, but it’s part of what you can get on the way to what you want.”
As Rivers stated, clinching the top seed is quite the achievement, but not a big enough benchmark of success to distract them from the playoff run ahead of them.
“I think for this team, as young as we are, to have home-court is really important,” Rivers said. “It’s nice to have. So we should feel proud of it.”
Home Court Fuels Embiid
Having the Philly crowd behind them will certainly make a major difference, especially given the recent Pennsylvania state approval to increase crowd capacity. Over the past two seasons, the Sixers boast a 59-11 home record, proving to be a tough out at Wells Fargo Center.
“Being the top seed helps a lot from home-court advantage,” MVP frontrunner Joel Embiid said. “Definitely helps a lot as we’ve been dominant at home. We barely lose here, so it means a lot to have the No. 1 seed.”
Just as it was the last time they clinched the top seed 20 years ago, the Sixers seem primed for a title run fueled by an MVP candidate. Instead of the dynamic combo guard and Hall of Famer Allen Iverson leading the charge, the Sixers are pioneered by the tireless efforts of Joel Embiid.
Embiid, 27, has been on a tear this season. His 28.5 PPG is fourth-best in the league, and with the regular season near its end, defenders have yet to conjure up a plan to slow him. The talented big man has done a great job of keeping the offense afloat while simultaneously anchoring the defense.
Whether Embiid is awarded MVP honors like Iverson remains to be seen, but he has certainly been the Sixers’ most valuable player this year and the engine behind their expected title run. Embiid, though, like everyone else in the Sixers organization, has his sights set on much more than the top seed in the East.
“You got to go out and prove why you were the No. 1 seed,” Embiid said. “You got to go into the playoffs and beat these teams and win the whole thing.” Embiid also pointed out what makes the Sixers such a playoff threat in the East- highlighting their strong defense, fluid offense, and overall team chemistry. “It starts on the defensive end; we’ve been great all year defensively.
Could The Sixers Be An Even Better Playoff Team?
I think we have the first or the second-best defense in the league,” Embiid said. “And then offensively, just playing with each other, moving the ball, finding the right guys, Tobias doing his thing, Ben doing his thing, me being dominant, the bench coming in and keeping the lead or pushing leads. Great coaching staff, great front office. So, you know, the group that we’ve had this year has been exceptional.”
Things have certainly gone swimmingly for the Sixers thus far, a trend they hope carries over deep into the postseason. If the Sixers want to accomplish their goals, their best basketball must be ahead of them. The regular season presents an interesting challenge, but the postseason is a different beast altogether. Fresh off a near 50-win season, the young Sixers squad aims to sharpen their focus even more and collect a few more.
“Every play counts, and as good as we were in the regular season, I think we’re going to be even better in the playoffs,” Embiid said. “In the regular season, [it’s] not the right way you should think, but you can kind of sometimes get away with it — not making the right rotations, not being fully committed defensively. But in the playoffs, everybody’s got to be on the same page. We have a goal, and we think we can accomplish it. So, everybody’s gonna be ready, and I think our defense is gonna be even better.”
The Sixers’ first-round opponent has yet to be determined as the Celtics, Hornets, Pacers, and Wizards continue to duke it out over the seventh and eighth seeds. Frankly, it likely won’t matter much given that the Sixers are built to contend in the first round and beyond and seem ready for the title chase ahead of them.
“I don’t care who we play,” Ben Simmons said. “That’s the point of having the No. 1 seed. You feel like you’re the best team in your conference. You’re supposed to be able to play anybody. If we were scared, we shouldn’t be in this position.”