Now that the Sixers are just as close to the #4 seed, and home court advantage in the first round (4.5 games) as they are to being out of the playoffs, I think it's safe to take a look at possible matchups. Here are the standings as of all the games on 3/17.
If the season ended today, the Sixers would face the Pistons in the first round. I think Wednesday's game showed that the Sixers wouldn't roll over and die against the Pistons, but a 7 game series, with ample days off, is probably just too much for the Sixers. The Pistons have the experience, and the guys to hit the big shots. Also, the scheduling of the playoffs favors teams with older players, or at least takes away any advantage young legs would give you.
Now, who should we want the Sixers to face? Well, that's a loaded question. The goal has to be getting out of the first round. Here are the most-favorable outcomes, as far as I'm concerned.
- Finish with the #4 seed, face Cleveland with home court advantage
- Finish with #6 seed, face Orlando
- Finish with #5 seed, face Cleveland
- Finish with #7 seed, face Detoit
- Finish with #8 seed, face Boston
After the jump we'll get into remaining schedules and probabilities for each scenario.
The Sixers have 15 games remaining, 8 at home, 7 away. Here's how the match ups fall out:
8 games vs. teams with a better record: Denver, @ Orlando, @ Boston, Phoenix, @ Cleveland, Detroit, @ Washington, Cleveland.
7 games vs. teams with a worse record: New Jersey, Chicago, @ New Jersey, @ Atlanta, Atlanta, Indiana, @ Charlotte
If they beat the teams they should beat, and lose to the teams they should lose to, according to records only, they will finish the season 40-42.
Now, for the scenarios from the previous page:
#4 seed - 4.5 games is a whole lot to make up over 15 games, but it isn't impossible. Cleveland only has 4 games left with teams ahead of them in the standings (3 vs. Detroit, 1 vs. Orlando and 1 vs. New Orleans). They also have 1 game vs. Toronto. However, the Sixers face the Cavs twice, including the second-to-last game of the season. If the Sixers can take both of those games it only becomes a 2.5 game swing. Still, Cleveland has only 5 road games left, 9 at home. They'd have to lose all the games listed above, the two to the Sixers and probably another 1 or 2 against bad teams for this to be a possibility.
Probability - Slim to none
First Round Match-up - LeBron James is the best player in the game. I think the team surrounding him is HIGHLY suspect, but he can put anyone on his back and win a series on his own. The only reason this is the most favorable scenario is the home court advantage. I've been at the Wach for several playoff games, it's crazy there and given 4 home games and LeBron's supporting group, I think the Sixers could pull this one out. Andre Iguodala has as good a shot as any swing man in the East of manning up on LeBron. I think Mo could scheme something to limit LeBron's damage either as a scorer or a facilitator.
#6 seed - The Sixers are only .5 games behind the Wizards. The Wizards have 16 games left, 8 against teams with better records, 10 on the road. This is a tough stretch and Gilber Arenas' return is still up in the air (it's questionable as to whether his return would be a good or bad thing for this team).
Probability - Very likely. The Wizards have a tough schedule down the stretch, and they aren't exactly playing good basketball. The Sixers could overtake them as soon as Wednesday.
First Round Match-up - Orlando is a tough assignment, but not impossible. Their defense is sub-par, their offense, while potent, is keyed toward the three-pointer. You can game plan to take away open threes. Also, one huge advantage the Sixers have is Andre Miller. Jameer Nelson cannot handle him. If Dalembert can stay out of foul trouble and cover Dwight Howard one-on-one, the Sixers could have a shot. Howard will get his numbers, if you can limit the damage Rashard Lewis and Hedo do from the outside, you've got a fighting chance. I like the defensive match-ups with Thad and Igduodala guarding the talented Orlando wings.
#5 seed - Toronto is in complete free fall mode. The Sixers have gained 6 games on them in the standings over the past 10 games. If Chris Bosh doesn't come back soon, they're going to continue to fall. They have a one-game lead on the Sixers currently. Their schedule is tough over the next two weeks with games against Denver, Detroit, New Orleans and Cleveland, but they have a cakewalk from March 31st on. 8 of their last 9 come against teams with a sub .500 record.
Probability - 75/25 against. Those last 9 games are just a cakewalk. The one they "should" lose is against Detroit when Detroit won't have anything left to play for.
First Round Match-up - See my statements above about LeBron and his 11
stiffs teammates, only subtract the home court advantage. I don't like the Sixers odds if they have to win a game or two in Cleveland, but I like them better than the last two scenarios.
#7 seed - It would take a pretty big collapse for the Sixers to fall any lower than 7.
Probability - High. This is the most-likely scenario
First Round Match-up - We've talked about the Pistons plenty over the past week. The Sixers showed they can play the Pistons' game and beat them, on the road. Their big starting lineup (Iguodala at the two) will continue to give the Pistons fits, and may limit Rip Hamilton's minutes and effectiveness. Still, beating the Pistons is a tall, tall order. Moving up out of this position is obviously preferable.
#8 seed - The Sixers are 4.5 games ahead of the Hawks today. The Hawks have an easy schedule,
with an expected 9-6 finish, and two games left against the Sixers.
They'd probably have to finish 11-4 with 2 wins over the Sixers to
finish in 7th.
Probability - Slim
First Round Match-up - This time last week, I preferred the Celtics to the Pistons in the first round. Now, I've changed my mind. I still think the Celts' old guys have played too many minutes, but I just don't see Garnett allowing this team to get knocked out in the first round. He creates too many mismatches and this team will benefit more than any other by the generous scheduling.
That's how I see it today. If you could choose, who would you like to see the Sixers matched up against in the first round?