By Connor Thomas
Last night the shorthanded Sixers fell to the Phoenix Suns in their 2nd straight home loss. Even with a few injuries plaguing the team, the back to back losses in the Wells Fargo Center is very uncharacteristic of the Sixers. But this is not a time for the team to dwell on those losses; they’re heading into their most important 2 game stretch of the regular season. As the Eastern Conference currently stands, there is a 3 team race for the 1 seed between Philadelphia, the Brooklyn Nets, and the Milwaukee Bucks. The Nets are a miniscule half game back of Philly, while the Bucks trail by 3.5. That number for Milwaukee, however, has potential to shrink drastically over the next couple days.
The Sixers are traveling to Wisconsin for an incredibly important 2 game set with the Bucks that will go a long way towards determining who will hold the 1 seed when the dust settles at the end of the NBA Regular Season. Why? Well obviously, the Bucks will pick up a full game on the Sixers for any game they win head to head. If the worst case scenario occurs for Philadelphia, they will very possibly fall behind the Brooklyn Nets, and will only be 1.5 games out of the 3 seed. This would be a disaster scenario for Philly, considering that they do not play Milwaukee or Brooklyn the rest of the way and will be unable to pick up full games in the standings without help. That is not the case for the Bucks and Nets. Those two teams will play each other in a 2 game set starting next weekend similar to the one beginning tonight between the Bucks and Sixers. While this does mean that the teams could split, deadlocking their standings, it also means that a large swing in the standings could occur for one of the two teams if they sweep.
Here’s why that’s an issue for the Sixers: All season, one eye has been on the opponent in front of Philadelphia, while the other eye has been on the Brooklyn Nets. But now, it seems the biggest threat to the 1 seed may be the team that takes the floor against the Sixers later tonight. Let’s take a look at strength of remaining schedule between the 3 teams according to our old friend from the process years, www.tankathon.com. Luckily for Philly, Tankathon has them as the team with the easiest schedule the rest of the way in the NBA. The Bucks are on the easier side of the spectrum as well, having the 19th hardest schedule remaining. The Nets, on the other hand, are tasked with the 9th hardest schedule remaining in the NBA. Brooklyn is also being afflicted over and over by the injury bug, as Kevin Durant is still working his way back to action, and James Harden may very well miss the remainder of the regular season and some of the playoffs. The Nets are treading water, and their mouths are below the waterline. They are a team that seems to be breathing solely out of their collective noses, waiting for one wave to drown them.
If the Sixers are able to take care of Milwaukee the next 2 games, the Bucks very well could return the favor in about a week by pushing the hobbled Nets out of 1 seed contention. However, if Philly falters in Milwaukee, the Bucks may have an inside track to jump their way all the way up to the 1 seed before the season ends. Yes, the Sixers are currently limping themselves thanks to a Ben Simmons illness, a Tobias Harris knee issue, and a revolving door of available bench players, but they can’t afford a down couple of games against the Bucks. With the Nets struggles and the Bucks remaining schedule, these next two games in Milwaukee could ultimately be paramount to the deciding of the Sixers chances to lock up home court advantage and the easier path throughout the NBA Playoffs. With only 14 games remaining, every single one counts, but tonight and Saturday may very well be the biggest 2 in the final stretch of the Sixers’ regular season.