How many of you had the Sixers winning 50 games this season?
Not many, I’d venture, but it’s probably going to happen.
They’re 47-30 with five to play, a slate with two road games and three home games featuring a pair of cupcakes, a pair of playoff teams, and a 9th place squad on life support.
That’s the Detroit Pistons, tonight’s opponent, a team that has won of 7 of 8 with the lone blemish in that stretch being a four-point overtime loss in Houston. It’s a streak that keeps them alive in the playoff hunt, even though they’re 37-40 and 4.5 games behind the #8 seed, Milwaukee.
The Sixers are 3-0 against the Pistons this year, three wins that took place before the Blake Griffin trade. The good news is that Griffin won’t play tonight due to an ankle injury he picked up at the end of the March. The bad news is that Detroit has won three straight without him, beating Washington at home before dispatching New York and Brooklyn on the road.
So I don’t know what the short-handed Sixers will face on the second night of a back-to-back. No Joel Embiid, no Dario Saric, no Blake Griffin, but we’re gonna see Ben Simmons and Andre Drummond out there. It’s been four games since the Sixers faced a team that actually had something to play for, or at least pretended to care.
It’s a critical matchup (obviously), because Cleveland is looming on Friday, holding a half-game advantage in the playoff standings:
Cleveland has won 10 of 11.
Indiana has won 6 of 7.
Philly has won 11 in a row.
There’s some high-level stuff going on here, and it’s the reason you now see that four game gap between 5th and 6th place, some spacing between the three squads I just mentioned and Miami, Washington, and Milwaukee.
Schedule-wise, here’s how each team finishes the year:
- Wednesday, April 4th – at Detroit
- Friday, April 6th – vs. Cleveland
- Sunday, April 8th – vs. Dallas
- Tuesday, April 10th – at Atlanta
- Wednesday, April 11th – vs. Milwaukee
- Thursday, April 5th – vs. Washington
- Friday, April 6th – at Philadelphia
- Monday, April 9th – at New York
- Wednesday, April 11th – vs. New York
- Thursday, April 5th – vs. Golden State
- Friday, April 6th – at Toronto
- Sunday, April 8th – at Charlotte
- Tuesday, April 10th – vs. Charlotte
The Pacers have the hardest schedule, with a back-to-back against Golden State and Toronto before a home and home with Charlotte to finish the year. They’re 1-1 against the Hornets and 1-2 against the Raptors this year, and they beat the short-handed Warriors in Oakland last week.
It could happen again at home tomorrow, but I doubt it. GSW now has a healthy Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green in the fold, and they’ve won three straight games. I like the Warriors to get it done in Indy.
So let’s safely pencil in the Pacers for 2 wins and 2 losses down the stretch, to finish with a record of 48-34.
Then let’s run down a few scenarios with Philly and Cleveland.
First, I just don’t see the Cavs losing at home to Washington or losing either game to the Knicks. Yea, they lost at home to the Wizards in February, but that was game three with the new-look squad, post-trade deadline. I certainly think April 4th Cleveland is better than February 22nd Cleveland, especially after last night’s big win against Toronto.
I’ll say the Cavs finish like this:
- Washington: win (49-30)
- Philly: loss (49-31)
- Knicks: win (50-31)
- Knicks: win (51-31)
That gets them to 51 and 31.
Now we can do a couple of different runs for the Sixers, starting with an unlikely 5-0:
- Detroit: win (48-30)
- Cleveland: win (49-30)
- Dallas: win (50-30)
- Atlanta: win (51-30)
- Milwaukee: win (52-30)
52 and 30 gets you the three seed. I know they’re on a tear right now, but I just don’t see them finishing on a 16 game winning streak. Do you?
Let’s say they lose to Detroit, but beat Cleveland, going 4-1 down the stretch to finish 51 and 31 and force a tie with LeBron and company. The season series finishes 2-2, so we go to the third tiebreaker, which is division winner. The Cavs have a two-game lead on the Pacers in the Central right now, and that’s probably not going to change. The Sixers can’t win the Atlantic, so a tie doesn’t do anything for you.
Let’s say the Sixers beat the Pistons, lose to Cleveland, and the Cavs win their three remaining games:
- Cleveland: 52-30
- Sixers: 51-31
- Pacers: 48-34 (even going 3-1 only gets them to 49-33)
The best chance for Cleveland to slip up is against Washington tomorrow night, so say they lose that game, lose in Philly, and beat the Knicks twice. You’re looking at a 50-32 Cleveland team.
That’s the only scenario that really allows the Sixers to afford a loss tonight in Detroit, and even then they’d still have to run the table to avoid the tiebreaker. You don’t want to fall back with Indiana, either, because they’ve got the tiebreaker over Philly on the strength of a 2-1 season series victory.
There’s a lot of assumption in there, for sure. I’m assuming the Sixers take care of business against Dallas, Atlanta, and Milwaukee, three games they’re favored to win. I’m assuming the Cavs don’t mess up against Washington and New York. And I’m assuming that Indiana doesn’t rip off four straight victories to close out the year.
Whatever the case, it starts tonight with a tricky matchup against Detroit, a game that sets up Friday night’s showdown. The Sixers still control their own destiny, but there’s zero wiggle room.
For what it’s worth, ESPN’s BPI playoff odds have the teams finishing in a tie:
Same thing over at Basketball Reference:
There’s a chance at the #3 seed, but it’s not entirely likely. The fallback here is the #4 seed and home court against Indiana, which would place you against Toronto in the second round if you get there.
Considering that most of us had the Sixers right on the fringe of the playoffs in our preseason predictions, 50 wins and home court would be one hell of a season.