By Connor Thomas
The Sixers had their roughest stretch of the season when it seemed that it mattered most. They went a brutal 0-4 in 4 pivotal games against the Warriors, Suns, and Bucks twice. Over that stretch, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Seth Curry, and Furkan Korkmaz all missed time due to injuries or sickness. The last game lost to the Bucks, who are trailing them by one position in the standings, was lost by a whopping 38 points. It was a nightmare week for the Sixers, who as a result, fell out of first place by over a full game for the first time in months.
And yet, all is not lost in the team’s pursuit of the 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. In fact, it seems that Philadelphia may still have the inside track to the top position in the East when the regular season is said and done. Despite the season sweep of the Sixers, the Milwaukee Bucks still sit 2.5 games back from Philly, and another 1 game back from the first place Brooklyn Nets. They don’t have a difficult schedule the rest of the way, but they still have to play the Nets twice, as well as 2 other East playoff teams in the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets. None of those games are lock wins. The Nets, who lead the Sixers by 1 game, may still have the hardest stretch of their schedule ahead of them, as they play 5 straight playoff opponents from this Friday to next Saturday. If they falter at all during that stretch, the door will be wide open for the Sixers, who own the easiest schedule the remainder of the season of any other team in the association.
Besides two games against the Atlanta Hawks, who will possibly be without star PG Trae Young, the Sixers only play one other playoff opponent in their final 11 games. There is a very real possibility that they don’t lose another game the rest of the way. Last night, in a 31 point rout against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Tobias Harris were all back in action, and looked like their dominant selves. It would appear that the Sixers, though certainly not unscathed, were able to hold on to the bull during the bucking 4 game losing streak and find themselves in prime position to catch the Nets. With Milwaukee trailing by 3.5, the only way they can possibly make a push would be by beating the Nets in one or both of the teams’ remaining matchups, which would help the Sixers as well. For that reason, it seems that the initial notion of the East being a 2 team race is proving true. But with a difference in strength of schedule over the remaining 11 games, a healthy Sixers team still looks like they have every ability to overtake a James Harden-less Brooklyn and lock up the all-important easy path to the Eastern Conference Finals.
So let’s all knock on wood, grasp our lucky rabbit’s feet, and find a four leaf clover. As Marc Zumoff would say, we’re coming in for a landing, and it looks like the Sixers may just have enough runway to land the plane in first.