The Philadelphia 76ers currently trail the Boston Celtics in the standings by just one game.
Amid some Celtics losses and a 76ers win streak, Philadelphia is slowly climbing into range to take the Eastern Conference’s second seed.
But if they get either the second or third seed, which is looking more and more likely by the day, the Sixers’ second round matchup seems destined to be against Boston.
Bucks, Cavaliers Have Solid Hold on Seeding
The fact that Boston and Philadelphia will probably be meeting in the second round has less to do with the teams themselves, and more to do with the teams surrounding them in the East standings.
Right now, the Milwaukee Bucks have a two-game lead on the first seed, and have gotten hot over the last month. Based on the way they’ve locked in lately, it seems pretty unlikely that they’ll fork over the first seed.
Meanwhile, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the fourth seed, trailing the No. 3 seeded 76ers by four games. Cleveland has been very good this season, but they might not quite have what it takes to beat the East’s top three teams.
With those two teams holding their spot in the standings, Boston and Philadelphia look locked into the No. 2 and 3 seeds; it’s just a matter of which team gets the higher seed, and possible home-court advantage with that.
Three-way Race for Eastern Conference
The teams with the three best records in the NBA are all in the East, with the Bucks, Celtics and Sixers looking like top-notch title contenders.
The top seed in the East is looking like a huge prize for whoever gets it. Not only does it secure the usual home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, but the first seed will not have to face the second or third seed until the Eastern Conference Finals, assuming they make it there.
The Bucks look like they’ll hold onto the No. 1 seed, meaning they wouldn’t have to see Boston or Philadelphia until the conference finals. But for the other two teams, it means the opposite.
The 76ers would, in all likelihood, have to face both Boston and Milwaukee to advance to the NBA Finals. That is an extremely tough challenge, considering there’s an argument that those are the two best teams in the league.
Assuming all three of these teams win their first-round matchup, rounds two and three of the East playoffs are going to bring great basketball. No matter who comes out of the conference, it’s looking like they’ll be the favorite to win the 2023 NBA title.
76ers vs. Celtics Playoff History
Boston and Philadelphia have met twice in the playoffs since Joel Embiid became a 76er.
Back in 2018, the Celtics beat the 76ers in the second round, 4-1. In the 2020 bubble playoffs, they swept Philadelphia.
Jayson Tatum and the Celtics have had the Sixers’ number for years. If there’s any year that that could change, it’s this year.
While the 76ers are 0-3 against Boston this season, they still play them one more time. And as this season has gone along, Philadelphia has been winning more and playing better basketball.
The last time these two teams met, the Celtics needed a Tatum game-winner to close out the 76ers. Boston and Philadelphia have a very narrow gap in talent level on their rosters; for the Sixers, it’s now about game planning and execution.
The Celtics and 76ers will play one more time in the regular season on April 4. After that, they will probably be seeing each other for a seven-game series in Round Two.
Featured image courtesy of Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
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