First Place in the East: The 76ers are on top of the Eastern Conference standings with less than 10 games remaining in the regular season
Ladies and gentlemen we have an absolute dog fight at the top of the Eastern Conference standings. The Philadelphia 76ers are now tied for first place in the East after both the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks both lost last night. The Sixers have nine games left on the schedule and will face the first place team in the West, the Phoenix Suns, today at 6PM.
As of Sunday morning, here’s how things are shaping up in the East.
Philadelphia has won three straight games while the Miami Heat have lost four straight games and the Milwaukee Bucks lost to the Memphis Grizzlies last night, moving the 76ers into a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Celtics are by far the most interesting team as many had them written off as an East contender through the first half of the season, only to hit a crazy hot streak after the All-Star Break. Currently the Celtics are 9-1 in their last ten games and winners of five straight, playing themselves into the contenders conversation.
The 76ers currently hold the tiebreakers over both the Celtics and the Bucks. With how close the East has been all season long, it wouldn’t surprise me if we see tiebreakers decide some of the seeding come mid-April.
Upcoming Top Four Matchups
With only a handful of games remaining these four teams have very few, if any, matchups with each other down the stretch to shake up the standings.
The 76ers have already finished their season series’ with both the Celtics and the Heat. That means that if the Sixers want to remain in the top spot they’ll need some help along the way while continuing to win games of their own.
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The Sixers have one final matchup coming against the Bucks this Tuesday, which could be considered the most important game of the season depending on how you feel about the seeding for the post-season. Milwaukee and Philly have been neck and neck in the standings for a couple weeks now, so that matchup is the only direct way for the 76ers to get a leg up on the Bucks.
The only other games remaining between these four teams involves the Celtics. Boston hosts the Heat next week and head to Milwaukee as one of their final games of the season in early April. The C’s have certainly been the hottest squad of the four recently, but it will be tough to jump anyone without getting wins against those two teams with so few games remaining.
Current Playoff Matchups
What makes the top three spots in the East so interesting this year is just as much about the top teams as the potential lower teams to match up against. With Brooklyn’s injured riddled, drama filled season costing them a ton of games they’ll likely be slotting in as a seventh or even eighth seed for the post-season. Matching up against them in the first round, especially with Kyrie Irving likely able to play home games, is something no team likely wants.
With that in mind, we can assume that the Nets would win their first game of the play-ins and slot into the seventh spot (unless they can’t win without Kyrie in Toronto). Currently that means a first round rematch from last year of Celtics-Nets. The eighth spot is an honest toss up between the Hornets and Raptors, who would currently take on the top seeded 76ers.
As of today the Celtics would draw the Raptors in the first round, a battle of the two teams on the biggest winning streaks heading into the playoffs. Interestingly, if the Bucks grab the third spot to face Toronto, the Raptors are the only team the Bucks haven’t beaten this season (0-3 in season series).
With that potential third and seed matchup in mind it does beg the question, why try so hard for the top spot if you can grab an equally favorable matchup further down the standings? The 76ers are currently 6-0 against the two likely matchups at that spot (Bulls and Cavs), and chasing the top seed could end up with a matchup against Brooklyn in the first round.
This all plays into the argument of does seeding matter, and I am by no means suggest the 76ers tank. It is just such a rare occasion to see a team many in the NBA consider a title contender finish as one of the lowest seeds in the playoffs.
The Nets absolutely hectic season has brought on a scenario few have ever seen going into the post-season, a heavyweight bout in the first round of the post-season. With that looming, watching the chase for the top seed with the 76ers heavily involved will be interesting for the next couple of weeks.
Mandatory Credit: Stacy Bengs.