Should the Sixers push for a top seed or prioritize health?

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid (21) goes up for a shot during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Philadelphia 76ers are in the midst of a brutal road-laden March schedule as the push for the playoffs heats up. The Sixers also have one of the hardest remaining schedules to close the season as the playoff picture and fight for seeding begins to clear.

Philadelphia is now 9-2 in March, including a recent eight-game winning streak that was broken Monday evening in a double-overtime loss against the Chicago Bulls in Philly. They have already played eight of their games in March on the road, with seven remaining road games out of their final 11 games of the season. 

The Sixers have an upcoming 4-game road trip starting in Chicago against the Bulls Wednesday night. They then head west for matchups against the Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, and Denver Nuggets. After their road trip, they return home for games against Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving, and the Mavericks and a crucial matchup against the Boston Celtics. Sandwiched in between those games is a road trip against Milwaukee Bucks. Their schedule also includes stretches of three games in four nights and five games in seven nights. 

Should the Sixers focus on fighting for one of the top two spots in the Eastern Conference, or should they prioritize rest?

The Sixers are currently 48-23, third place in the east sitting only a half-game behind the Boston Celtics for the second seed. They are also just three games back of the top spot in the Eastern Conference, currently occupied by the Bucks.

With the Boston Celtics on a little of a slide, the Sixers can push for the second seed, which would guarantee, in a second-round matchup against the Celtics, that they would have home-court advantage. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks may be hard to catch, but the Sixers have a crucial matchup in March that would lock up the season series tiebreaker if they were to win. The 76ers would likely have to play their stars heavy minutes coming up if they were to try to truly push for a higher seed.

With Joel Embiid and James Harden having nagging foot injuries, they would choose to rest their stars and opt for health in the playoffs. The Sixers have all but locked up the third seed and have the season tiebreaker against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are in fourth place. As long as they stay afloat while resting key guys, they could hold on to the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

Joel Embiid hasn’t had the best injury history in the playoffs, including sustaining a broken orbital bone in their close-out victory of the first round. One can arguably say that they changed the Sixers’ fortunes in their second-round matchup with the Miami Heat. James Harden also dealt with a lingering hamstring injury last season, and it clearly affected how well he played in the playoffs.

With two roads for the Sixers to go down, they will most likely go for one of the top two spots in the conference. Joel Embiid is on another tear and has pushed his way to the top of the MVP conversation having another career year and leading the league in scoring. In order for Embiid to make that final push to secure his first MVP award, he will need to play and play well in this upcoming stretch. The Sixers will also need to win games and win in some of these crucial matchups (at Denver, at Phoenix, at Milwaukee, home against Boston).

There’s no way to avoid the Bucks or the Celtics in the second round or third round, so it’s best to try to get home court in at least one of those matchups. It is tough for a team to balance winning and health, but getting to the playoffs with homecourt in the second round, a healthy Embiid, and Harden could help propel this team to the conference finals for the first time since 2001.