On this glorious Monday morning, let's take a close look at the playoff race, see if we can call a winner, and lay out all the scenarios for first-round matchups. The Sixers only have two games left, the first of which features Dwight Howard and the Magic in Philly later tonight.
OK, so here's the story. The Sixers remain 1 game behind the Knicks, but their tragic number is actually one with two games to go. For the Sixers to pass the Knicks, they actually have to pass them because NY holds the tiebreaker. Losing that game to the Knicks last week was really the final nail in the coffin, but let's look at the remaining schedules anyway:
- vs. ORL, tonight
- vs. DET, Wednesday
- vs. Chicago, Tuesday
- @ Boston, Wednesday
Obviously, the Sixers need to win both games, and the Knicks need to lose both for the Sixers to pass the Knicks. It's not a terrible stretch to think the Knicks will lose to the Bulls and the Celtics. In the Sixers favor: Orlando played a tough, tough game against the Bulls on Sunday, they're playing the second night of a back-to-back. Unfortunately, Dwight Howard was suspended for the game, so he won't be winded. Orlando also isn't playing for anything and the Sixers have done a great job of coming up with a game plan for dealing with Howard earlier this season and done a good job of executing it. Iguodala's knee shouldn't be much of a factor, they don't have wings who are going to blow by you off the dribble.
Another thing playing in the Sixers favor, if Chicago takes care of the Knicks on Tuesday night, they finish the season at Boston, on the second night of a back-to-back, against a well-rested Boston team that should still have something to play for. Which brings us to the other important race.
Miami's trouncing of the Celtics yesterday gave them a one-game lead for the second seed in the East. Each team has two games remaining, but the key here is that the Celtics, not the heat, own the tiebreaker. Boston is still very much alive in that race. Here's a look each team's remaining schedule:
- @ Atlanta, tonight (second night of a back-to-back
- @ Toronto, Wednesday night
- @WAS, tonight (second night of a back-to-back
- vs. NYK, Wednesday night (NYK 2nd night of a b-2-b)
Miami's schedule looks easier, but they're more than capable of laying an egg. Atlanta is coming off a humiliating loss to the Wizards on Saturday, and they'll be looking to establish some momentum heading into the playoffs. Yeah, that's probably a reach, especially considering Atlanta's spineless nature, but it's possible. Then you've a game that could be the ultimate upset stage. Toronto, the city that was burned by Chris Bosh, will have a chance to play spoiler in their last game of the year, against Chris Bosh's new team. The Heat will be overlooking them, worrying about their playoff matchup. TOR's youth may just have an upset in them.
On Boston's side, if they can get an easy one at Washington tonight, they're going to have all the motivation in the world to beat the Knicks on Wednesday night. After all, the Knicks are most-likely their first round matchup. Beyond that, though, with a win against the Wiz, the Celts will still have a shot at the number two seed, and home court advantage in the second round against the Heat, should both teams advance to the second round. Miami's magic number is two, with two games left.
At this point, though, the math gets a bit tricky. Here's an in-depth look at the matrix between these four teams::
That chart actually paints a slightly prettier picture than the raw numbers. If you forget about the actual schedule, and who BOS, NYK and MIA are playing in their remaining games, there are 45 different ways the season could end (PHI 2-0, NYK 2-0, BOS 1-1, MIA 2-0 as one example. BOS vs NYK limits the overall number, because both teams can't finish 0-2 or 2-0.). 29 of those scenarios have the Sixers facing the Heat in the first round (64.4%), 16 would match the Sixers up with the Celtics (35.6%).
At this point, you may be asking yourself, "OK, so what should I root for?" Well, if you want Miami in the first round, this pretty simple, root for Boston to lose every game and Miami to win at least one game. That means no matter what the Sixers do, they face Miami.
If you want the Sixers to face the Celtics, it's going to be a fluid thing. First, root for the Sixers to win. If they take care of the Magic, then the #6 seed is within your reach, so you want stasis from Boston and Miami. If both teams win or both teams lose, it's status quo and all options are open. If Boston wins and Miami loses, we have to get up #6 to get the Celts. If the Celtics win and the Heat lose, things get interesting and we have to turn our attention to Tuesday night when the Knicks play the Bulls. If the Knicks beat the Bulls, the #6 seed is out of reach and we have to root for Boston to take over #2, which would require a Celtics win over the Knicks and a Heat loss to Atlanta on Wednesday. If the Knicks lose, then our path is clear. We need to beat the Pistons, have the Celtics beat the Knicks and the Heat beat the Hawks.
If the Sixers lose to Orlando, than it's really simple, you root for the Celtics to win all their games and the Heat to lose all of theirs. Our only chance is if the Celtics pass (or really just catch) the Heat.
Personally, I'm going to be rooting for the #6 seed and Boston to finish 3rd, mainly because I want Boston, but I'm more concerned with seeing the Sixers finish the season strong than who they see in the first round. I'd trade a promising 2-0 finish and a matchup with the Heat for two bad games and backing into a series with the Celtics, though that may be foolish.