As the season winds down to the last 10 games, the Sixers find themselves firmly in the 8th seed with little concern to go lower and some optimism to move up.

The Play-in Tournament

For those of you still trying to figure out the play-in tourney rules, the winner of the 7 vs. 8 seed game becomes the official 7th seed in the playoff bracket. The loser then plays the winner of the 9 vs 10 seed game to determine who becomes the official 8th seed for the playoffs.

Right now, it looks like the Sixers will be playing in the 7 vs. 8 game to hopefully become the seventh seed who will most likely face the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, a team that the Sixers could handle in the first round with the return of Joel Embiid.

Other Potential Matchups

Falling out of the 7th seed could cause problems since they would have to play the number 1 team in the league – the Boston Celtics. Nobody wants to play the Celtics, especially a team like the Sixers, who can’t figure out how to beat them. The last time the Sixers beat the Celtics in the playoffs was 1982. Not fun.

If they can kick into gear (and hopefully get Embiid back to win a few games), they could move ahead of the Pacers into the 6th seed, whom they are currently 1.5 games behind for that slot. Doing this would give them a much more favorable matchup against one of the Cavs, Knicks, or Magic. Neither of which anybody should be afraid of in a 7-game series.

Sixers’ Current Strength

It’s a dark time for the team, and it doesn’t seem like they have any strengths at all right now, but they still are good at one thing: steals. They lead the entire league in steals per game with 8.4. That’s dang impressive without their best player. With the additions of lengthier players this season, like Nicolas Batum and Kelly Oubre, they have been able to get their hands on balls that they weren’t able to in years past.

Also, in the mid-season edition, Kyle Lowry has improved the craftiness of the defense. With his many years of experience, he has a knack for predicting where the ball will go. This lets him jump the passing lane out of nowhere, which could be very helpful in the playoffs if they match up against a younger team like the Magic of Pacers.

Reason for Optimism

If the Sixers had to go into the playoffs with this exact roster, we could throw this season out. Luckily, they should get Embiid back in the coming weeks. According to reports, Embiid started practicing with the team again this past week – a huge step toward his return. Having him on the team for the last week of the regular season and then the start of the playoffs will strike fear into any opponent.

Bringing Embiid back will free Maxey offensively. Teams have targeted him constantly since the big man went down in order for anybody else on the team to beat them. It has worked. If a team forces Tobias Harris or Kelly Oubre to become the primary scorer, they did their job well. Maxey will finally start getting single coverage again, hopefully coming with lots of speedy points from the lightning-quick guard.

In addition to freeing up the offense, Embiid has come into the playoffs banged up in many of his playoff seasons, but this time, he could potentially come in fully healthy. Though his conditioning concerns some, he never has been very conditioned throughout his career. His health is of utmost importance, and nothing else should matter. Even if he plays at 80% of the level he played earlier this season, he would still average 28 points and 9 rebounds. Not only that, but he would still demand most of the defense’s attention. Those who diminish the return of Embiid are just trying to protect themselves from disappointment again.

We can only hope…

If you are one of those people protecting yourself from disappointment, I can’t blame you for one second. Year after year, the Sixers have done very well in the regular season only to lose in the second round from a multitude of reasons, most of which have to do with some sort of Embiid injury—also, Glenn Rivers.

After another year of dominant play in the regular season, Embiid gets hurt again. We’ve heard the story plenty of times, but who knows, could this year be different? Could they be the first play-in team to win the finals? The answer to those questions lies only in the hands of Joel Embiid. He could prove all the doubters wrong in the next 2 months and cement himself as one of the greatest Sixers ever to step foot on the court.

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