By Connor Thomas
The Sixers have had a couple close calls over the past few days, but have managed to put together a 5 game win streak that has placed them back into 1st place in the Eastern Conference. I wrote last week about Philadelphia having the inside track to the top seed in the East, and now it seems that assertion has proven true. With 7 games remaining on the schedule for the Sixers and the Brooklyn Nets – the top 2 teams in the East – and 8 games left for the Milwaukee Bucks, Philly currently holds a 1 game advantage on Brooklyn and 3.5 on Milwaukee. The Bucks, for all intents and purposes, are out of the conversation for the 1 seed. Barring an epic collapse over the last 7 games for the Sixers, Milwaukee should not have a chance to catch them in the standings. The real trouble is the Nets, but they have already lost the tie breaker to Philly for the regular season and have a much tougher schedule over their final 7 games. Even with the easiest of the 3 schedules, though, the Sixers cannot afford any slip ups. The Nets put together an 8 game winning streak earlier this year, meaning they are certainly capable of winning out. It’s much more probable to have them with 5-6 more wins over the rest of their season. 6 wins would put Brooklyn at what I believe to be the needed number to win the East: 49 games won. I don’t think the Nets get to 49 wins, but they’ll sure as hell be close. Players like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving don’t go down easy, even in the regular season.
If Brooklyn does in fact only lose 1 game the rest of the way, the Sixers will need to put together a 5-2 finish to lock up the top seed. Looking at the schedule, the remaining opponents could very well be greater than the sum of their parts. Noted fan of The Process and huge Sixers super fan NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has once again made life difficult in the City of Brotherly Love, giving the Sixers 2 more back to backs in their final 7 games. Thanks to Silver, Doc Rivers will have to take his team home to face the Pelicans just a day after the upcoming Rockets game, and they’ll also have to follow up their toughest game of the rest of the year – on the road against the Miami Heat – with a trap game against the Orlando Magic. The “unfortunate” scheduling has turned an easy road into one with a couple of potholes. The question is, can the Sixers still find 5 more wins the rest of the way and presumably have enough to win the East? Let’s see.
They take on the Houston Rockets tomorrow night, who are 16-49, good for the worst record in The Association. That’s win 45. Thanks to Commissioner Silver they then play the New Orleans Pelicans and Detroit Pistons on a back to back set with a lead game that will be difficult to win. If there’s a loss besides the Miami game, it’s here. The 19-46 Pistons have no chance – win 46. But before they get there, they’ll have to dispatch the pesky Pelicans and Zion Williamson. It will be tough, and unfortunately I don’t believe they win that contest vs NOLA. The Sixers then have a 2 day rest before they travel to Indiana and take on the Pacers. That game would be tougher without rest, but with 2 days off that should comfortably be win #47. Here’s where it gets a little tricky. The Sixers then travel to Miami and take on the currently 6th seeded Heat. It’s the front end of a back to back, which does play into the mental aspect of strategy for the game. I don’t think win 48 comes in South Beach. That’s ok, because the Orlando Magic round out the Sixers’ schedule with 2 games in South Philadelphia. If Philadelphia can withstand the back to back first game with Orlando, they will absolutely take care of business on the last night of the regular season. Wins 48 and 49. Good enough for the 1 seed in the East and the easiest possible path to the NBA Finals. There’s still a week and change left for everything to shake out, but the runway is visible. As the Sixers try to land the plane, it appears that 49 will be the magic number that determines whether or not the Eastern Conference will run through Philadelphia this postseason.