The Philadelphia 76ers almost took too long to clinch a playoff berth. Unfortunately, Sixers fans like myself know that while they finally did it, they took so long that they now have a much worse postseason road ahead. Now the Sixers are reduced to facing either the Chicago Bulls or Miami Heat, in the ultimate case of picking their poison.
As such, the last two games of the regular season still have some meaning to Philadelphia. The Sixers can rise up to the No. 7 seed by beating both the Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons on April 25 and April 26, and by the New York Knicks losing once in the meantime.
The 34-30 Sixers and 34-30 Knicks probably have their preferences set already. For the Knicks, they likely want a showdown with the No. 2 seeded Heat, even after being swept by them in the regular season. Most of the NBA probably wants that showdown as well - and even the Sixers might want it.
Philadelphia was also swept by Miami this season - and was also knocked out in five games by the Heat last postseason. But the Sixers are far less likely to get revenge over the Heat than the Knicks are - whereas the Sixers' best win this season was over the Bulls on Feb. 1. At the least, Philadelphia has put up a far greater fight against Chicago than it ever has against Miami.
The Sixers cannot tank their last two games on purpose to avoid the No. 7 seed and a rematch with the Heat. But they probably won't be broken up if they don't overtake the Knicks anyway. Yet given New York's remaining schedule, the odds are actually in Philadelphia's favor that it will get to No. 7.
The Knicks' next-to-last game is against the Los Angeles Clippers on April 25, while the Sixers face a Bucks team that is now out of the playoff picture. While the Clippers are already in the Western playoffs, they need a win to secure home court advantage for the first round, so they have a lot more to play for than the Knicks.
If things go as expected, then Philadelphia will have a one-game lead over New York, and will then only need to beat Detroit to finish at No. 7. But if the Sixers then lose to the Pistons, there is almost no chance that the Knicks won't leap past them - since their last game is with the Charlotte Bobcats.
If the Sixers actually want to finish ahead of the Knicks, then the two teams cannot be tied after April 25. Otherwise, since the Knicks have the tiebreaker and would only have to beat the Bobcats to clinch the No. 7 spot, that would end the race then and there.
As such, the only hope for Philadelphia is to be perfect and root for a New York loss to Los Angeles. But since the Sixers would then face the Heat, that might qualify as a big loss anyway. Therefore, the Sixers really do have to decide if they want to go all out this week - and if the Bulls really are the preferred lesser of two evils.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan.
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