Sixers observations: Sixers clinch No. 1 seed with blowout win over Magic

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3 observations after Sixers clinch No. 1 seed with blowout win originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

For the first time in 20 years, the Sixers will enter the playoffs as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

Their third chance at clinching the No. 1 seed was the charm as they beat the Magic on Friday night in Philadelphia, 122-97.

Seth Curry scored 20 points on 7-for-9 shooting.

Joel Embiid posted 13 points and 11 rebounds in 23 minutes. Ben Simmons had 13 points and nine assists.

Everyone was available for the 48-23 Sixers besides Matisse Thybulle (left hand swelling). A slew of key Orlando players were out with injuries, including former Sixers Markelle Fultz, James Ennis and Michael Carter-Williams. 

Friday’s win was not the Sixers’ best or biggest of the season given the competition, but the team has earned home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. Playing at home has been a significant edge for the Sixers in recent seasons. They’re 57-9 at Wells Fargo Center since the start of the 2019-20 campaign. 

“Every time we have everybody healthy, we barely lose here," Embiid said. “So it means a lot to have that No. 1 seed.

The Sixers will conclude their regular season Sunday night against Orlando. Here are three observations on the team's win Friday:

Sticking with Scott, all-bench units 

With Dwight Howard suspended for a game after picking up his 16th technical foul of the season Thursday, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers needed to adjust.

Though he didn’t agree with Howard receiving a technical for an altercation Thursday night with Udonis Haslem, Rivers wasn’t sympathetic toward the veteran big man.

“I really didn’t think Dwight deserved a tech last night, but it’s like the kid that keeps being late for class and then finally he actually has a real reason, but no one believes him,” Rivers said pregame. “There’s not a lot you could’ve done about it. They give you a number on purpose, and so when you get to that number and you’re putting whether you’re going to play or not in someone else’s hands, it usually doesn’t go your way, and I would say that’s the case here.”

Mike Scott checked in as the Sixers’ backup center late in the first period and played in a small-ball, all-bench lineup alongside Tyrese Maxey, George Hill, Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz. That lineup fared well. Scott knocked down a top-of-the-key three-pointer. Korkmaz converted two threes in his first stint, too.

Rivers had mentioned Simmons at center as a possibility before the game, but he evidently felt comfortable using Scott as his makeshift backup five. If Embiid or Howard are ever sidelined during the postseason, it will be interesting to see whether Scott plays. The idea of Simmons at center is intriguing and promising, and yet the Sixers haven’t gone to that look much.

In general, the Sixers like when Simmons is driving downhill and attacking mismatches. Playing him at the five encourages those things, though the Sixers must exploit offensive advantages and manage defensively without a traditional rim protector. 

Embiid one step closer to Round 1, Game 1 

Embiid was much more active from the start than he’d been the night prior during the Sixers’ loss to the Heat. He grabbed six rebounds within the first six minutes after a two-rebound game in Miami, drew six first-quarter free throws and was engaged defensively, sometimes coming out beyond the three-point line in pick-and-roll coverage. 

Unlike Thursday night, the Sixers’ opponent was the team irritated by the officiating as its deficit steadily grew. Shortly after Magic head coach Steve Clifford was called for a technical foul, Embiid and Dwayne Bacon were each assessed technicals, as well. Bacon appeared to shove Embiid following a foul on Curry. No one on the Magic seemed pleased with anything that was transpiring as the Sixers stretched their lead to 23 points at halftime. 

Though Embiid only shot 3 for 9 from the floor and got into foul trouble, he looked healthy. Barring something catastrophic, he should be available for Game 1 of the Sixers’ first-round series. 

At the end of a difficult, pandemic-influenced season with minimal rest for players, it seems the Sixers will enter the postseason in a good place health-wise. They’ve balanced pushing for the No. 1 seed and maintaining the health of their stars effectively thus far. 

Expect the unexpected, right?

For a second straight game, a former Sixer opened the game in a groove. With all due respect to 22-year-old Ignas Brazdeikis, he’s not as likely a candidate for a scoring spree as Jimmy Butler.

Brazdeikis, who was acquired by the Sixers in the trade for Hill and waived on April 8, poured in 10 first-period points on 4-for-4 shooting. He ended the game with a Magic-high 21 points. As a team, Orlando made 6 of its first 7 three-pointers. 

Another “you don’t see that every day” moment from Friday’s game: A shot-clock malfunction placed PA announcer Matt Cord in the spotlight at the beginning of the second half. Cord informed players when there were 15 or 10 seconds left in a possession, and he counted down once the shot clock hit five. He was relieved of that duty late in the third quarter when two shot clocks were set up on the floor along the baselines. 

Despite the Magic’s hot early shooting, the Sixers never trailed by more than two points. Orlando would’ve needed to play a near-flawless game to win. 

For the Magic, the next important event on the NBA calendar is the draft lottery. For the Sixers, it’s obviously the postseason. They’ll be watching the play-in tournament, which will begin next Tuesday, to learn their first-round opponent. 

“I think it’s going to be entertaining to watch," Curry said. “I think it’s good for the league, especially over the past couple weeks. Going forward, I’m excited to see how it plays out. As individual players and as a team, we know everybody in the league. We know how those teams play.

“It’s the coaches’ job to get prepared for every possible scenario. As a player, we’ve got to get healthy, keep our skills over the next week, work on our game. Throughout the playoffs, you don’t have a week to get ready for teams. From the first round to the second round, it’s really no different. You’ve got a couple days and then you get ready to play.”