By Connor Thomas
We’ve been hearing it for months now from anyone who remotely covers basketball in Philadelphia: it would be huge for the Sixers to get the 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They would gain home court advantage, they would not have to face the 2 seed (presumptively the Brooklyn Nets) until the conference finals, and it would mean they would have had the best regular season in the East. But there is more to the 1 seed than the Sixers just gaining home court advantage. The path to the finals is shaping up to be significantly easier from the 1 seed than it would be from one spot lower. The current Eastern Conference playoff standings are as follows:
Let’s look at the immediate matchup in the playoffs: if the season ended today the Sixers would be facing the team they just defeated last night, the Boston Celtics. Yes, the Celtics swept the Sixers out of the first round last year in the bubble, but this is far from the same Boston team. They seem like they have all but quit on head coach Brad Stevens, and even if they do rally around their coach, they do not have anything close to an answer for Joel Embiid. In a series, there should be absolutely no fear of Boston. Alternatively, the New York Knicks are a pesky team that, while they should not have any business beating the Sixers in a 7 game series, could give Philly a bit of trouble in the first round. It would not be a walk through like the Boston series. Advantage 1 seed. The 2nd round, though, is where the 1 seed would really pay off for the Sixers. Now, personally I think the Sixers match up very well with the Milwaukee Bucks, and firmly believe they could handle them in a playoff series. But which of these options would you rather face? If the Sixers win the 1 seed and beat Boston in the first round, they would be facing either the Atlanta Hawks or Charlotte Hornets. If they were to get the 2 seed, they would face the winner of a series between the Miami Heat or the Bucks. There should not be a single person that believes the Sixers would be better served facing the Heat or Bucks over the Hawks or Hornets. Neither the Hawks nor the Hornets have a snowball’s chance in hell at beating the Sixers, whereas the Heat and Bucks could easily take Philly to 6 or 7 games.
When you have a championship caliber team, eyes should go towards the path you would have to go through to reach the championship game/series. For the Sixers, by a wide margin, that path comes via the 1 seed. Perhaps, they could even get lucky and the Nets falling into the 2 seed would lead to an early exit for Kevin Durant and company and Philly could avoid them all together. However the rest of the playoffs shake out, the bottom line is this: the Sixers winning the 1 seed in the Eastern Conference is absolutely paramount to the team’s championship chances.