With 50 games in the books, the 76ers still find themselves as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
The last stretch of the season will be all about seeding and positioning within the conference standings.
The number one seed is a goal this team has set for itself and thus far has done a good job of defending despite Brooklyn’s ability to win without all of their stars.
Assuming the Sixers finish as the one or two seed, who should the team be hoping to match up within round one?
Who should they be hoping to avoid if at all possible?
Teams to Avoid
New York Knicks
The New York Knicks currently find themselves at .500 and in the 7th seed in the conference. Outside of the top three teams in the east, there is not much separation between any of the rest of the teams. A good week could result in any team sliding up the standings a few spots. While the Sixers went 3-0 against the Knicks this year, the games were not cakewalks by any means.
The last two meetings specifically ended with the Sixers finding a way to win ugly. An ideal first-round matchup does not have the defensive tenacity and resilience of these Knicks. The Knicks could be an annoying team to face in the playoffs and I could see them pushing a series that isn’t particularly close to 6 games.
The Pacers, if the season ended today, would be in the play-in tournament as the 9th seed. This is a team that’s dealt with injuries throughout the season but has some really tough and talented players.
This is another team that may not have the talent to really beat a top-seeded team in the East but could force a longer and more difficult series than wanted. With Caris Levert getting acquainted into that lineup, there could be a lot more firepower offensively by the time we get to the playoffs.
We all know the Raptors made a questionable decision by holding on to Kyle Lowry past the trade deadline. They’re sitting at 19-30 right now, a game and a half back of the 10 seed. They have not been a good team this year by any stretch of the imagination, but when you look at the roster, you wouldn’t think they’d be this bad. They have a lot of tough-minded players and it still feels like they have a chance to get hot and make a push for a playoff spot this season.
If they turn their season around and go into the playoffs with momentum, this would not be a fun team to face in round one.
The Chicago Bulls just made some pretty significant trades at the deadline; adding Nikola Vucevic and Daniel Theis. Despite those additions, this team is still not good defensively in the slightest. They rank 27th in defensive rating and typically have to outscore their opponents to get wins.
The last time the teams met, Matisse Thybulle did a tremendous job guarding Zach LaVine and largely took him out of the game. The Sixers match up really well defensively with the Bulls and would likely have an easy time getting past them in a first-round playoff matchup.
The Hornets have been one of the more fun teams to watch this year. Unfortunately for them, LaMelo Ball suffered a wrist injury and may be out for the remainder of the season. If the season ended today, the Hornets would hold the home-court advantage as the fourth seed. Along with Ball, Malik Monk and Gordon Hayward have suffered injuries recently, so that fourth seed may be difficult for them to hold onto.
The Sixers have won each matchup with the Hornets this year, but haven’t seen them since February 3rd. The Hornets are an exciting young team but have minimal playoff experience on their roster and absolutely nobody who can guard Joel Embiid. Most teams don’t have an Embiid-stopper, but their lack of experience would make this a dominant series for the 76ers.
The Atlanta Hawks have been playing really well since the firing of Lloyd Pierce. Nate McMillan has the young team playing very well of late as they currently sit in the 6th seed in the eastern conference. Despite their improved play, the Hawks have always been a team that Joel Embiid feasts against. Last season Joel scored a then career-high 49 points against them. For his career, he’s averaging over 25 points per game against the Hawks.
The Hawks have a lot of solid shooters on their roster, but the Sixers have weapons defensively that can make life difficult for Trae Young, and that combined with Joel Embiid’s dominance would close this series out pretty quickly.
The Sixers look primed for a top-two seed in the Eastern Conference. Because the east is so tight between seeds four and eleven, there are tons of potential first-round matchups for the Sixers.
Getting through the first round as quickly and easily as possible will be key for the Sixers, who are looking for their first eastern conference finals appearance in 20 years.
As we get deeper into the second half of this season, the playoff picture will start to become a little more clear, and we’ll start to see the path the Sixers will need to get through to reach their ultimate goal.
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