Who should the Sixers want to face in the first round of the playoffs?
Last Sunday, the New York Knicks beat the Boston Celtics and the Eastern Conference playoff picture came into focus. The Knick’s win meant that they would claim the fourth seed, the Atlanta Hawks would take the fifth seed and the Miami Heat would take the sixth seed. If the Sixers are able to advance to the second round, they will play the winner of the Knicks-Hawks first round series.
The playoffs shaped up to give the Sixers the easiest path to the finals. Looking slightly ahead to that second round matchup, the Sixers went 3-0 against the Knicks during the regular season and as we all know, Ben Simmons has never lost to the New York Knicks. Ever. The Sixers went 2-1 against the Atlanta Hawks during the regular season.
On the other side of the East, the Bucks have the third seed and now have to play the defending Eastern Conference champions in the Miami Heat, who went 12-4 to end the season, in the first round. It’s likely that in the second round, the Bucks will then have to play the Brooklyn Nets, and the winner of that series will move on to the Eastern Conference Finals, where ideally, the Sixers will be waiting for them after making quick work of their second round opponent in either the Knicks or the Hawks.
Sixers First Round Opponent
Boston (36-36) and Washington (34-38) finished in the seventh and eighth seeds in the East. The Pacers (34-38) and the Hornets (33-39) took the ninth and 10th spots. The winner of the Pacers/Hornets play-in game will play the loser of Celtics/Hornets, then the winner of that second game will take on the Sixers in the first round of the playoffs.
The Celtics, when healthy, are likely the best team out of the four possible opponents. They are a team that has caused the Sixers problems over the last several seasons and beating them in the first round of the playoffs is something that I personally want to see. The one caveat is that Boston is not healthy and Jaylen Brown is out for the remainder of the season. Boston didn’t mind dismantling the 76ers in the bubble playoffs last season without Ben Simmons and I certainly wouldn’t lose any sleep doing the same to them this year.
The team the Sixers would probably want to avoid would be the Washington Wizards. The Wizards have won 16 of their final 22 games this season and have two high-powered guards in Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook. I’m not really concerned with the Wizards given the fact that they have no one to stop Joel Embiid and the Sixers’ perimeter defense, featuring Ben Simmons, Danny Green, and Matisse Thybulle, should be able to limit the damage from Westbrook and Beal.
The Wizards would have to lose to Boston in their play-in game, then beat the winner of the Pacers/Hornets game to face the Sixers in the first round. Boston limped their way into the playoffs (literally) so it’s likely that the Sixers won’t see the Wizards.
Who should the Sixers want to play in the first round? To answer that question as simply as possible, it doesn’t matter who the Sixers play in the first round. For a team that has such high championship aspirations and is the number one seed in the conference, any eighth seeded team is someone they are expected to beat. Period. Over the next few weeks, we will witness what we have all been waiting for since November 2020. The Sixers are well positioned to make a run to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 20 years.