The Eastern Conference is a tightly contested race, and an incredibly important one. The Brooklyn Nets are the current one seed, with the Philadelphia 76ers just a half game behind. That means the 76ers have the same losses, but have played one less game and have one less possible win. If they win the next game on their schedule, they tie. It’s a tie that they desperately want. The one seed not only gets home court advantage (less important these days, but fans are coming back), but they get the real prize, avoiding the Milwaukee Bucks. Of course, the Bucks themselves aren’t totally out of the race, which is partly what makes them so dangerous.
Why Does the One Seed Matter?
Right now there is a clear hierarchy to the Eastern Conference. The 76ers, Nets and Bucks are at the top far ahead of the rest of the pack. Then 4-9 have almost identical records, solid teams but not terribly frightening (except maybe the Miami Heat). Therefore, whoever gets the one seed only has to play one of the other two clear top teams, while the second and third place teams need to play both. That will be a major advantage in the Eastern Conference finals.
The one seed is of utmost importance. That much is clear. So what are the two top teams pathway to getting there? The Nets have 20 games left to play, while the 76ers have 21. Let’s analyze the schedule left for both teams.
The Nets’ Schedule
|Los Angeles Lakers||This could’ve been a great game, but no Lebron James and no Anthony Davis should mean a clean Nets W.|
|@Minnesota Timberwolves||Minnesota are last place in the West for a reason. Nets W.|
|@Philadelphia 76ers||This one could go either way, but the 76ers are at home and both teams are not on a back-to-back, meaning Joel Embiid should play. Slight Nets L.|
|Charlotte Hornets||The Hornets have been one of the surprises of the season, but the firepower on the Nets plus injuries to Gordon Hayward and Lamelo Ball will be too much. Nets W.|
|@Miami Heat||This is a tough game for anyone. The Heat can compete with anyone and are home, but still should be a Slight Nets W. Could go either way though.|
|@New Orleans Pelicans||We just saw this matchup and it wasn’t pretty. Even though it’s on the road now (and Brandon Ingram should be back) that’s not enough. Nets W.|
|@Toronto Raptors||Back-to-back road game for the Nets, and the Raptors are still weirdly good when they want to be when the full squad is available. This one isn’t as clear cut as the records make it look. Slight Nets L.|
|Boston Celtics||The Celtics have been up and down all season. They probably don’t have enough to beat the Nets at home. Nets W.|
|Phoenix Suns||Both teams should be rested going into this one, and both are really good. This is about as even as you can get. Slight Nets W.|
|@Toronto Raptors||The Raptors again away, but this time not on a B2B. Even though the Raptors show up sometimes they are outside the playoffs for a reason Nets W.|
|@Indiana Pacers||The Pacers are solid, and it’s away. Solid isn’t good enough to beat the Nets though. Nets W.|
|Portland Trailblazers||Damian Lillard is one of those guys that could just go for 40 or 50 and win a game single-handedly. The Nets are also on a B2B while the Blazers aren’t. Slight Nets L.|
|@Milwaukee Bucks||Two straight games away against the Bucks is tough. This smells like a split. Slight Nets W.|
|@Milwaukee Bucks||Slight Nets L. See above.|
|@Dallas Mavericks||Third game of a five game road trip for the Nets, and they’ll be flying from Milwaukee to Dallas. At the same time, the Nets team is really stacked. Slight Nets W.|
|@Denver Nuggets||Fourth game of the road trip against a really good Nuggets team. Denver has a massive advantage at home, but they’ll be on a back-to-back coming home from a road game against the Utah Jazz. Slight Nets W.|
|@Chicago Bulls||One of the few teams to beat the Nets recently, but that was without Kevin Durant. It’s the last game of the road trip, and they’ll have had three days rest since the Nuggets. Nets W.|
|San Antonio Spurs||The Spurs are better than they were last year, but it’s not enough. It is a back-to-back, but that doesn’t change much. Nets W.|
|Chicago Bulls||Don’t think much will have changed in the four days since they played last. The Bulls could be much tougher by then though, once they play more games with Zach Lavine and Nikola Vucevic together. Nets W.|
|Cleveland Cavaliers||The Cavaliers won both previous meetings with the Nets. Things have changed since then though, and these teams went in opposite directions. Nets W.|
Nets’ Schedule Summary
If everything goes as projected here, the Nets go 16-4 over the last 20, which is higher than their current win percentage. Any slight game could go either way though. Not only that, but the Nets are not immune to losing baffling games (just like any NBA team to be fair) as they have losses to the Cavaliers and the Washington Wizards. They play 11 current playoff teams but only have two games against the current bottom eight teams. While they don’t play the Los Angeles Clippers or Jazz, three combined away games against the 76ers and Bucks is no joke. According to Tankathon, the Nets have the ninth hardest schedule left. Final Projection 52-20.
Philadelphia 76ers’ Schedule
|@New Orleans Pelicans||The Pelicans have a lot of firepower, but with Brandon Ingram unlikely to play they don’t have enough. 76ers W.|
|@Oklahoma City Thunder||The Thunder are literally trying to lose games. While this is a 76ers road back-to-back (meaning Embiid playing is unlikely) the 76ers proved on their recent road trip they can win without Embiid against the lesser teams in the NBA. 76ers W.|
|@Dallas Mavericks||The 76ers blew out the Mavericks earlier in the season with Embiid having one of his worst games of the season. Not only that, but Ben Simmons is one of the best at guarding Luka. 76ers W.|
|Brooklyn Nets||Home game, not on a back-to-back. This game will be of utmost importance for the 76ers. Slight 76ers W.|
|Los Angeles Clippers||It wasn’t close last time, but that was away without Embiid. This time it should be at home with Embiid, which is a whole different ball game. Slight 76ers W.|
|Golden State Warriors||The Warriors will have Stephen Curry back and he can single-handedly win games (just ask the Milwaukee Bucks) but the 76ers are at home and should have Embiid. 76ers W.|
|Phoenix Suns||The 76ers are fortunate to be at home for this one, while the Suns will be on a road trip and will have recently played the Bucks. Both teams are great, so it could easily go either way. Slight 76ers W.|
|@Milwaukee Bucks||Back-to-back and away after playing the Suns is a bad combination. Embiid probably isn’t playing, and without him the 76ers don’t have enough to beat a team like the Bucks. 76ers L.|
|@Milwaukee Bucks||The 76ers will be desperate to avoid the season sweep and Embiid should play in this one with good rest. Slight 76ers W.|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||Again, the Thunder don’t want to win. Not only that, the last game was probably without Embiid and away. This time it will be with Embiid and at home. 76ers W.|
|Atlanta Hawks||Two straight home games against the Hawks who have been playing great since firing Lloyd Pierce. They also might be a lot healthier than they’ve been all season. However most of their wins have just been taking care of business against teams that they should beat. They haven’t punched above their weight yet. 76ers W.|
|Atlanta Hawks||See above. 76ers W.|
|@San Antonio Spurs||Away, but not a B2B so Embiid is on the table. The 76ers blew them out earlier without the All-NBA big man. 76ers W.|
|@Chicago Bulls||This one is a B2B and it’s away. Flying from San Antonio to Chicago also isn’t an easy trip. The 76ers have won the past two games, and one was without Embiid, but the Bulls have Vucevic now and the 76ers don’t have Tony Bradley. 76ers L.|
|@Houston Rockets||One of the worst teams in the league that is also trying to lose games. 76ers W.|
|New Orleans Pelicans||Back home, not on a B2B. Brandon Ingram will probably be back, and the Pelicans could be in push for a playoff spot. Still, it’s not enough versus the full 76ers. 76ers W.|
|Detroit Pistons||It is a back-to-back but this is the bottom of the Eastern Conference for a reason. While the 76ers did lose to this team without Embiid before, the 76ers without Embiid have been way better since then. 76ers W.|
|@Indiana Pacers||The 76ers will be on three days rest, while this is a B2B for the Pacers. The Pacers may be healthier, or they may have shut it down. 76ers W.|
|@Miami Heat||The last road game of the regular season for the 76ers. This could be tough, you can never count out Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler, while Victor Oladipo might be better acclimated to the team. Despite that, the 76ers are still the better team on paper when fully healthy. Slight 76ers W.|
|Orlando Magic x 2||Two games, but both should be simple. The 76ers face another team that is trying their best to lose and dumped most of their best assets at the trade deadline. 76ers W x 2.|
76ers’ Schedule Summary
These projections have the 76ers going 19-2, which is probably not going to happen, but it’s not that crazy. The back-to-backs with Embiid are pretty much 50/50s no matter who they play. At the same time, the schedule is quite a bit easier than the Nets’. Tankathon has them 10th easiest and one can see why. They play the same number of current playoff teams that the Nets do (11) but they play a lot less Western Conference playoff teams than Eastern Conference ones. Not only that, but they also play six games against the bottom of the NBA which one would assume are all but guaranteed wins. The 76ers play a lot of the same top opponents that the Nets do, but the rest of the schedule is easier. Final Projection 54-18.
And the Winner Is… The Philadelphia 76ers
Is that a bit of a homer pick? Sure, but at the same time looking at the schedule it’s not far-fetched at all. Some of those Nets losses are ambitious, but the 76ers play most of their back-to-backs versus really bad teams, while the Nets play versus good teams that could beat them. While both of these projections were made with the assumption that starters stay relatively healthy, there’s no guarantee of that for either team. They both have had many games with starters missing. No matter what, it should be a very tight race for that crucial one seed. If you’re the type to circle games on the calendar, Wednesday April 14th is the date to know. The winner of that game will be in the driver’s seat, and both squads know it.
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