It wasn’t pretty, but the Philadelphia 76ers’ win over the San Antonio Spurs, combined with Brooklyn Nets’ loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, put the 76ers back on top of the Eastern Conference. They are half a game up on the Nets, and since they own the head-to-head tie breaker, they are in complete control of their destiny. Win out, and they secure the one seed no matter what. Despite being an easy schedule overall, especially compared to the Nets, there are still a few dangerous games out there.
The Next Game
Back-to-back games are killers, even more so when they are on the road. The 76ers also have players that can be injury-prone, which leads to nagging injuries and the need for rest. This season, the 76ers are 5-6 on back-to-backs. Despite only having eight games left, they have three more B2B’s left on the schedule, tonight’s game at the Chicago Bulls being one of them, the team having just traveled to Chicago from San Antonio after a hard fought game that went to the last second in overtime.
Chicago could be missing Zach Lavine and Nikola Vucevic, by far their two best players, but unfortunately the 76ers have lost to worse, especially on a back-to-back. They just needed overtime to defeat the Spurs without Demar DeRozan and Dejounte Murray, and they lost to the Nets earlier in the year without Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving or James Harden. There are other examples sprinkled all across the season of the 76ers either playing down to lesser competition or clearly suffering from fatigue.
Back to Back
The other two back-to-backs are at home (although the 76ers are 1-3 in home B2Bs), and they come against the literal bottom of the NBA in the Detroit Pistons and the Orlando Magic. The above still applies though, and the Pistons have already beat them once. They also play the New Orleans Pelicans before the Pistons game. The 76ers lost their first matchup against the Pelicans quite handedly, and the Pelicans could easily be fighting for a play-in spot.
Other Pain Points
The Miami Heat
The 76ers only face one team with a record above .500 for the rest of the regular season, which is the Miami Heat on May 13th. The Heat are 7-3 in their last ten, including a win over the Nets. They’ve also suffered some pretty bad losses including to the Minnesota Timberwolves and a Lavine-less Bulls. The Heat are inconsistent, but with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, they can run with any team, and will play up to their competition. That was evident during last year’s NBA Finals trip. They are on the border of the play-in right now, and will do anything they can to avoid the tournament.
The Indiana Pacers
Finally, the game before the Heat the 76ers face the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers are the only other fringe playoff team the 76ers face besides the aforementioned Pelicans and Heat. The 76ers are up 2-0 in the season series–the first game needed a double-digit comeback in the fourth quarter while the second was a blowout. The Pacers haven’t really been able to punch above their weight this year, but they seem to have found their stride offensively. They averaged 117 points per game in April, which is higher than any of the 76ers’ months, and the Pacers just had a ridiculous 152 point explosion against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Just like the Heat and Pelicans as well, the Pacers have the play-in tournament to contend with that will keep them playing extremely hard.
Both of the aforementioned games are away, the last road trip for the 76ers in the regular season. The 76ers have done what they always have post process at home, going 25-7. However, they are a much more pedestrian 18-14 away. For what it’s worth, the Pacers have actually been worse at home versus the road, while the Heat have a much more normal split, going 19-14 at home and 16-16 away.
Yesterday’s nail biter versus the shorthanded Spurs should serve as a reminder to the 76ers to not take anyone lightly on their quest for the one seed. The games outlined above are all especially dangerous. The 76ers have been inconsistent, particularly on back-to-backs, and will need to be careful, especially since any games Joel Embiid or one of the other Sixers Big Three miss are extra dangerous. Doom and gloom aside, these are all supremely winnable, while the Nets have a brutal three game stretch coming up against the Bucks, the Dallas Mavericks and the Denver Nuggets. Each Nets loss gives the 76ers more margin for error, but there’s no reason to use it if you don’t have to. Take care of business, and take the one seed.
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