Third Place Means the World to the 76ers

Third Place Means the World to the 76ers
Those who say the regular season standings don’t matter in the NBA, are certainly misguided when it comes this season to looking at the Eastern Conference.
 
The difference between finishing third and fourth in the East is monumental.
 
The 76ers were in third place, one game ahead of the Indiana Pacers and two in front of the fifth place Boston Celtics after Sunday’s 130-125 statement win at the first place Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday.
 
The Sixers had 12 games left after that win, including Wednesday’s home matchup against Boston and an April 4 game at the Wells Fargo Center against the Bucks.
 
The difference between third and fourth means everything.
 
Consider, if the Sixers finish third, they would face the No. 6 seed, the Detroit Pistons. If they finish fourth, it would likely mean a first-round matchup with Boston.
 
Entering Wednesday’s game, the Sixers were 0-3 against Boston this season. And everybody remembers last year when the Celtics beat the Sixers in five games during their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
 
Is Boston beatable?
 
Absolutely, especially this year when there has been plenty of disharmony in the Celtics play.
 
Still, it’s much better to open up with a team like Detroit, a team the Sixers finished 3-1 against this year, winning the last three.
 
After the win over Milwaukee, the Sixers were still four games behind the Toronto Raptors for second place, so moving up would be difficult with 12 games remaining.
 
Yet after the matchup with Boston, of the Sixers final 10 games, eight are against teams with sub .500 records. One thing the Sixers have shown is that they can feast on the lesser lights of the NBA.
 
Sure, there is an occasional hiccup, such as the 108-107 loss at Chicago on March 6, but for the most part, the Sixers take care of business against the lesser lights of the NBA.
 
As the win over Milwaukee showed, when Joel Embiid is on his game, the Sixers are awfully tough to beat. Embiid exploded for 40 points and 15 rebounds. For good measure he had six assists.
 
Embiid had to be on his game to offset a 52-point performance by Giannis Anttkounmpo, who continues to make a run for being the NBA MVP.
 
Milwaukee should finish as the top seed and the Bucks have become a trendy pick to win the Eastern Conference.
 
Yet this is a team that lost in seven games in last year’s first round to Boston. Amazingly, Milwaukee hasn’t won a playoff series since 2001, when the Bucks advanced to the Eastern Conference finals before losing to the Sixers.
 
So without any recent playoff success, the Bucks are a major question mark.
 
As stated before, when Embiid is on his game, the Sixers can beat anybody. With a favorable final 10 games after facing Boston, the Sixers should be able to tune up for what could be an eventful playoff run.
 
Finishing in third place would go a long way toward the Sixers achieving that goal.

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Author: Marc Narducci

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