The Ultimate Guide To Sixers Playoff Seeding
Do we want to rest, go for the #1 seed, or thread the needle and try for something else?
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With such a deep and oddly structured eastern conference, trying to figure out where the Sixers should hope to end up in the standings is no easy task. At the time of this writing, the Sixers are 1.5 games back of the No. 1 seed, and own the No. 2 seed via a tiebreak over the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics. They could very easily end up anywhere from the No. 1 to the No. 4 seed, and have only 10 games left to see how things shake out.
Here in this piece, I’ll outline how you should hope the standings will shake out for the sake of playoff matchups, and also discuss what I think the most likely outcome is.
The case for going all out for the 1 seed
I imagine that there are many people reading this who have already given this some thought, and are hoping that the Sixers will fall to the No. 4 seed. I get that to an extent — you would avoid any chance at seeing the Nets in round one, and, if things hold, you likely avoid getting the defending champion Bucks or red hot Celtics in round two.
I do not reside in that camp myself. First and foremost, locking down the No. 1 seed likely gives you a sub-50 percent chance of seeing the Nets in round one, given that the Nets will play the No. 7 seed in the play-in beforehand, and FiveThirtyEight currently projects that to be the Cavaliers.
Secondly, home court advantage in the second round would be of immense importance; having to play the Celtics, Bucks, or Heat without it is terrifying.
Third, while this is irrelevant to playoff success, locking up the No. 1 seed would all but seal the MVP for Joel Embiid, whereas falling to No. 4 could deal a damaging blow to his case in the opposite direction. Any Sixers fan should be rooting for Embiid to lock down MVP rather than trying to finesse certain playoff matchups.
The Sixers have the easiest remaining strength of schedule, per Tankathon, so the No. 1 seed is very much attainable. While you do, of course, run the risk of potentially getting Brooklyn in round one, it feels more likely that they will win their play-in game and end up as the No. 7 seed. Whatever risk you run there is outweighed by the benefit of getting home court advantage, likely avoiding Milwaukee in round two, and solidifying Embiid’s MVP case.
The No. 2 seed is the worst case scenario
While No. 1 has its risks, No. 2 is infinitely more terrifying. Having to most likely play the Nets in round one, followed by either Milwaukee or Boston in round two, is just a gut-wrenching thought. Whatever reward you get in terms of round two home court advantage is far outweighed by the fact that you’re putting yourself in prime position for a Brooklyn-Milwaukee path to the conference finals.
If the Nets lose their play-in game and the Sixers end up facing the Cavs or Raptors in round one, this largely becomes moot, but in my very humble opinion, you’d rather be the No. 3 seed than No. 2, in order to avoid that possibility entirely.
No. 3 beats No. 2, but has its own risks
In the event that the Sixers end up at No. 3, you can at least rest assured that they wouldn’t see the Nets until at least round two. It ensures that they would get either the Cavs, Raptors, or Bulls in round one.
Losing home court advantage in round two is difficult, but a guaranteed avoidance of Brooklyn in round one makes it worth it. Based on that alone, I’d argue that the Sixers should prefer the No. 3 seed over No. 2.
Still; potentially ending up with either a Milwaukee or Brooklyn matchup in round two isn’t a fun thought, either.
The No. 4 seed is as safe as it gets, but has its downsides
With the No. 4 seed, the Sixers once again would be guaranteed to avoid the Nets in round one, and if the standings hold, would likely face the Heat in round two, who I’d assume that many fear less than the Bucks or Celtics.
Being on the side of the bracket with Miami and Chicago, rather than (presumably) Brooklyn, Milwaukee, and Boston, feels like by far the better outcome. While Brooklyn could always lose their play-in game and end up on this side of the bracket, we can only go based off of the most likely outcome here, which is them playing and beating the Cavs in the play-in game for the No. 7 seed.
However, while the No. 4 seed is ideal from an objective, calculating perspective, it certainly has its downsides. For starters, falling to No. 4 requires you to limp to the finish line a bit, and even if you accomplished that by resting star players, one worries what it would do to the mojo of a group that is very much still in self-discovery mode to have a mediocre end to the year and end up down in the No. 4 seed — whereas ascending up to No. 1 would have the opposite effect.
Additionally, it could end up costing Embiid the MVP, whereas, again, ascending to the No. 1 seed would do the opposite.
The No. 4 seed has a lot of practical benefits, and would be easy to accomplish, but its effect on overall morale and the Embiid MVP race make me a tad bit uneasy.
The final verdict
If I had to rank the outcomes in order of most ideal to least ideal, I’d go: 1 seed, 4 seed, 3 seed, 2 seed.
But to reiterate — I’m basing this in part on the assumption that the Nets beat whoever they play in the play-in game for No. 7. If they end up at No. 8, a large part of my thinking behind my ranking goes out the window. All I can do is play the percentage game, which currently points to a Cavs-Nets matchup for No. 7, which I see the Nets winning handily.
The 3 and 4 seeds have their perks (namely avoiding Brooklyn), but lack the morale and overall upside of being No. 1. For the love of God, though, the Sixers should avoid No. 2 at all costs.
If I had to make a prediction, I would assume that the Sixers take some rest days for their stars, have a couple of off games, and wind up as the No. 3 seed behind Miami and Boston. In that event, they’d have a stab at whoever survives the round one slugfest between Boston and Brooklyn.