After Tuesday night’s tilt against the Nets, the Sixers have five games left to play. They have more or less locked themselves into the three, four or five seed in the NBA playoffs.
With Joel Embiid sidelined as he recovered from eye socket surgery and a concussion, Philly fans are left to watch their more than capable team tread water (they won 11 in a row heading into Wednesday’s tilt in Detroit) as they wait for the All-Star center to return to the floor.
He will — its just a matter of when. If he can return by April 14, just over two weeks from when Embiid went down with the injury against the Knicks, he will be able to play in the Sixers’ first playoff series since 2012. If he needs the longer end of the estimated recovery time, four weeks, he could miss an entire series. Can Philly advance in the Eastern Conference in a worst case scenario?
All signs would point to yes, regardless of Philly’s opponent. The 76ers put together their longest winning streak in more than 20 years and Wednesday held the longest active streak in the NBA. They are peaking at the right time.
Likely Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons has played like a wryly veteran, firing passes few 10-year NBA regulars can make and boasting 11 triple doubles on the season, more than many NBA franchises. Simmons’ supporting case, when healthy (Dario Saric sat out the Nets game) gives Philly exactly what it needs to defend and score.
“Being out there I’m getting more comfortable,” Simmons said. “I’m starting to learn my teammates even better and they’re starting to learn me, so every game is just helping me out and helping my teammates.”
A first round match up against the Wizards (if the Sixers catch Cleveland for the three-seed) or Pacers (as the four or five seed) would present a challenge, as the squad has gone 3-4 in seven combined games against their two potential playoff opponents. Home court advantage will be very important for the Sixers, a team which has gone 27-13 from the Wells Fargo Center.
“I think the stat was like 76 percent of home court teams, move on to the next round,” Simmons said. “It’ll be huge if we get that, we have the best fan base in the NBA.”
Interestingly, it was against the Pacers in Indiana that Philadelphia last lost back on March 13. Indiana has quietly become a contender by protecting the ball and playing one of the top 10 defenses in the NBA. Philly also relatively recently fell to the Wizards, a 109-94 dismantling in D.C. The Wizards will be stronger come postseason time with a healthy John Wall leading the way. Both teams offer a challenge for the Sixers — but the Sixers should be favored against both teams.
Simmons has shown he can lead as the Sixers have taken care of business since Embiid’s recent injury. But on the season, Philly is almost 15 points per 100 possessions worse without Embiid on the floor. Embiid makes the Sixers an Eastern Conference Finals contender. Just having Simmons gives them just enough to slither their way into the second round.
Whether this is something Sixers fans will need to worry about will come into focus soon enough, as news on Embiid’s status should be updated at the end of the week.