The Philadelphia 76ers Should Want the 4 or 5 Seed This Postseason
Though each NBA team is getting eight regular season games next month, the Philadelphia 76ers should be looking straight to the postseason. Already locked into no worse than sixth in the Eastern Conference, Philly is looking to play the matchup game.
For many, playing the matchup game means staying as far away from the Milwaukee Bucks as possible. After all, they have the reigning Most Valuable Player (who will likely win it again) and the best record in the league (again). The Bucks' machine of Giannis Antetokoumnpo and shooters is a force in every sense of the word.
When talking about advancing further in the playoffs, the path of least resistance makes sense. But for the sake of Philly's future, it should want to play Milwaukee as soon as possible.
The Sixers are undergoing an experiment. After failing to retain Jimmy Butler last summer, they decided to lean into size and physicality, using that leftover cap space to sign Al Horford. Along with Joel Embiid, Horford is one of few humans on Earth who can feasibly guard the Greek Freak; having one of them on the court at all times is very helpful for containing him.
That has not been as effective in practice. Horford, Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Sixers' three most talented players, have barely treaded above water this season (net rating of plus-1.0). Not great!
Granted, the Sixers' model was supposed to play up in the playoffs. But regular season performance has to be taken seriously, and at 39-26, the results have been disappointing.
So rather than staying at sixth and entrenching themselves in the same bracket as the 2 and 3 seeds (Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics, respectively), wouldn't it make more sense to test this model as soon as possible? Though getting to the conference finals would be great for morale, especially with how stacked the odds already are against them, does it really matter if they end up getting slaughtered by the Bucks anyway?
The Sixers are supposed to be in the business of winning championships, and if the Bucks are a serious roadblock for this version of them, they need to know ASAP. In addition, if the model happens to work, they've suddenly taken down Goliath in round two. A year out from Antetokoumnpo's unrestricted free agency, the Sixers could make those wandering eyes meander even further from home.
If that causes a second round exit, then the front office will know the model doesn't work. Time is of an essence, especially in a league that's sure to be changed forever by this pandemic.