The Philadelphia 76ers have clinched a spot in the 2023 NBA playoffs, marking their sixth consecutive postseason berth. It’s a feat that the franchise hasn’t seen since the days of Dr. J and Moses Malone. The mighty efforts of Joel Embiid, James Harden, and company could finally get the Sixers deep into the postseason.
Recent injuries to the two stars have brought some concern about how well the Sixers will finish the season and/or be prepared for the postseason. But as a whole in the 2022-23 campaign, the Sixers have felt much more like a legitimate, fearsome contender. Their offense is among the very best in the sport and has a defense that, warts and all, is still pretty good. Embiid anchors both sides of the ball and has a case for being not just the MVP but the very best player from this season.
With only a few weeks until the playoffs start, the Sixers’ path to the championship has yet to be determined. The Eastern Conference could see some movement, even near the top, as the regular season winds down. The Sixers can move up to as high as the top seed but as low as the fourth seed. Neither of those scenarios is very likely, though. Philly can be penciled into the third seed, the spot it currently holds and is most likely to be dealt at season’s end.
The absolute dream would be for the Sixers to land the top seed in the Eastern Conference. It’s not an impossible goal but it is truly a dream for one key reason: making it a reality will be extremely difficult.
Sixers’ dream seeding scenario, matchup for 2023 NBA Playoffs
The post-All-Star break portion of the season has been super tough on the Sixers — and it will continue to be. They have another road matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, their fourth and final game against the Boston Celtics and no more freebies against tanking teams. The Bucks lead them in the standings by five games. Since it would take some major injury management or an unforeseen losing streak to catch them, they will have to set their sights lower.
The Sixers were briefly the second seed in the East before the Celtics took the spot back from them. They are 2.5 games back in the standings, meaning that they will need help from Boston’s opponents to catch them. One of those opponents is themselves; they’ll get the chance to secure their first win of the season against them on April 4 in a matchup at home. The Bucks and Celtics’ remaining schedules are lighter, so the Sixers should expect to be the third seed in the East as long as they don’t completely fold.
While one of the top two seeds would be nice, the Sixers can still draw a manageable path to making the championship. First, they will likely see either the Brooklyn Nets or Miami Heat in the first round. Aside from possibly being on the wrong end of a huge series from a star that got away (Mikal Bridges or Jimmy Butler), neither team should be a legitimate threat to bounce them.
The Nets simply don’t have the firepower to compete with the Sixers, though they present themselves as a scrappy, deep team that could push a series longer than expected. Any potential Ben Simmons revenge seemed next to impossible based on his performance this season and is now officially ruled out for the remainder of 2022-23.
The Heat have extremely limited depth outside of the Butler-Bam Adebayo-Tyler Herro trio and one of the very worst offenses in the league. A series against them being tough for Philly would take all of Playoff Jimmy’s might. That’s not to say it can’t happen but the likelihood of it shouldn’t scare the Sixers that much.
Getting the New York Knicks in the first round would be a tough draw. Jalen Brunson’s hand injury has contributed to New York’s 4-6 record in their last 10 games but they should still be able to hold onto the fifth seed, leaving Brooklyn or Miami for Philly. At this point, getting a matchup against either of those squads in the first round and keeping the third seed is the best scenario the Sixers can reasonably expect.
Their likely opponents in the second round are none other than the Celtics. Boston has had their number at every turn this season but doesn’t seem as invincible as before. The Celtics are dealing with a situation involving a star guard on an expiring contract that seems direr than that of the Sixers. Although Philly is hearing tons of rumors about Harden having an eye for Houston, Jaylen Brown could just as legitimately be on his way out of Beantown, a lingering worry that could continue to nudge Boston’s unity in the wrong direction.
Despite Milwaukee’s dominance, the Sixers have beaten them twice this season and lost only by two points in their first matchup. Philly’s superior ability to score in the halfcourt could be the driving factor behind a playoff series win. But regardless of which of the East’s top teams is better matchup, Philly will most likely have to go through both of them to reach the Finals.
The obvious caveat with a Sixers goal related to the playoffs is health. Embiid and Harden have to be healthy, which wasn’t the case last season and took away their chances of pulling off an upset in the second round of the playoffs. Should both stars be close to their best shapes by mid-April, Philly could make some raucous noise in the playoffs.
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