Securing the first seed is massive for the Sixers‘ playoff chances. Here is a look at their potential path through the playoffs.
The Philadelphia 76ers hit the reset button this offseason by restructuring the front office, hiring a new coach, and making several important roster changes. As a result, the Sixers had the highest winning percentage since the 2000-01 finals team and secured a spot at the top of the Eastern Conference. Sitting at first place in the East, the Sixers have given themselves their best chance at postseason success and paved their path through the playoffs as best as they could.
Sixers Potential First Round Matchup:
The Sixers do not quite know who their matchup will be in the first round as the NBA has implemented a play-in tournament this season. This involves the 7th and 8th seeds matching up with the winner of this game, securing the 7th seed, and will match up with the Brooklyn Nets.
The loser of the 7th and 8th seed will match up with the winner of the game between the 9th and 10th seeds. The winner of this game will lock themselves into the 8th seed and take on the Sixers in the first round. With the seedings finally set, it has locked in the Boston Celtics to the 7th seed, Washington Wizards to the 8th seed, Indiana Pacers to the 9th, and Charlotte Hornets to the 10th seed.
While this may seem more complicated than it needs to be, the bottom line is the Sixers will play either the winner of the Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets matchup or the loser of the Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics. Each team has different areas that they excel, but none of these teams have a record above .500 and are not expected to be a challenge to the Sixers as long as they play up to their full ability.
Eastern Conference Semi-Finals:
Assuming the Sixers are able to skate by the first round, the Sixers will face the winner of the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks matchup. This is part of the reason it was so important to lock up the top spot as this is a far more favorable matchup than the winner of the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat series, which the Nets will be tasked with.
The Hawks and Knicks each have a youthful squad that lacks playoff experience. It will likely be a competitive series with the Knicks being given a slight edge right now. New York holds home-court advantage due to a tie-breaker, and it will be exciting for a playoff atmosphere to be back in Madison Square Garden, which will end a seven-year drought.
The Knicks are led by Julius Randle, who has developed into an MVP candidate and triple-double threat on a nightly basis. The 26-year old showed tremendous growth this year and is only the sixth player in NBA history to average 24+ points, 10+ rebounds, and 6+ assists over the course of a season. The Knicks have a deep roster with former Sixers, Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks, each playing a valuable role for the team. The Knicks have impressed all season but lack playoff experience and still have holes that the Sixers could exploit if this is the matchup.
The Atlanta Hawks have an identical 41-31 record to the Knicks and also extremely young. It has been the Trae Young show in Atlanta since he came into the league with the third-year player averaging 25.3 points and 9.4 assists on the season. The Hawks make their living behind the three-point point arc and at the free-throw line, where they rank third in three-point percentage and second in free-throws made, respectively.
This series will be certain to be more of a challenge than the first round, but this is still extremely winnable for the Sixers. The Sixers were 3-0 against the Knicks and 2-1 against the Hawks this season.
Eastern Conference Finals:
The defending Eastern Conference champs, the Miami Heat, have a chance to make a surprise run on the other side of the East bracket, but in all likelihood, it will be either the Brooklyn Nets or Milwaukee Bucks. The biggest advantage of having the first seed is that the Sixers will only have to face the winner of this matchup rather than having to beat both. The series between these two teams will be a heavyweight matchup that the Sixers will have an extremely close eye on.
The Bucks added several key win-now pieces to their already talented roster this offseason, such as Jrue Holiday and PJ Tucker. Giannis has been extremely impressive this season, and the roster has clicked together extremely well throughout the season. The Bucks can flat-out score the basketball as they average a league-leading 120.1 points per game on the season. The Bucks gave the Sixers a major hand in securing the first seed by beating the Nets in back-to-back games two weeks ago, so they clearly have no intention of rolling over to the Nets.
Brooklyn has assembled the most impressive offensive big-3 of all time with their mid-season trade for James Harden. It is still a mystery how well the team will mix as the trio of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden have played just 8 games together on the season. The Nets are second in the league in scoring with 118.6 points per game, and it is concerning that the team is just starting to click now.
Another important reason for securing the one seed is the Sixers will have a home-court advantage for the entire series. With a 29-7 record at home this year and an increase in fans being allowed into the Wells Fargo Center, there could be a real playoff atmosphere in Philly for the first time in far too long. This series will be an extremely challenging test for the Sixers regardless of who they draw. However, the team has done everything possible to put themselves in the best spot possible leading up to this series.
What If The Sixers Reach The Finals:
If the Sixers are able to run the gauntlet and escape the East, they will have no time to rest on their laurels. The West is as open as ever, and there is no clear favorite for who will come out of the conference. The Lakers and Clippers are considered the betting favorites despite the Jazz and Suns holding the first and second seeds. No matter who it is, the Sixers will have a real chance, and it could be argued that the Eastern Conference Finals will be the toughest series for the group.
The biggest point here is as long as the Sixers have a ticket to the dance, they have a real chance to win. This is the Sixers’ best chance at a title since the 2001 Allen Iverson-led team. It’s an extremely exciting time for the franchise. The Sixers will find out their first-round opponent by Tuesday or Wednesday this week. This weekend, they will begin their own playoff journey. It is up to the Sixers to take care of business, but the job has been done in paving the best path possible in the journey to a championship title.