Five years removed from a 10-win season, the Philadelphia 76ers find themselves atop the Eastern Conference.
Friday’s 122-97 victory over the Orlando Magic gave Philadelphia its first No. 1 seed in the East in 20 years, something coach Doc Rivers said the team should not take for granted.
“It’s an accomplishment. I don’t want to downplay it, but I told our guys to enjoy, I don’t want to call it a moment, I told them to enjoy the second, because it’s not what we want, but it’s part of what you can get on the way to what you want,” Rivers said. “I think for this team, as young as we are, to have home-court is really important. It’s nice to have. So we should feel proud of it.”
It’s been a long road back for the Sixers to the top, with “The Process” era finally coming full circle to sit atop the East, something Joel Embiid reflected on.
“It starts from when the Sixers finished a season 10-62,” Embiid said. “I think that’s when it started. From that time we’ve only improved.”
With the No. 1 seed in hand, the Sixers secured home-court advantage through the Eastern Conference finals, and that also comes with the added benefit of avoiding the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks in the first two rounds.
“It means what we said we wanted to do at the start of the season was get that No. 1 seed,” Ben Simmons said. “Obviously have home-court advantage, but besides that, we’ve got to get ready for the playoffs. We’ve got one more game to finish out and then the real job starts. We put ourselves in a good position but ultimately we want to win the championship.”
Home-court advantage could be big for the Sixers; they hold the best home record in the East at 27-7, compared to a road record of 20-16.
“Being the top seed helps a lot from home-court advantage,” Embiid said. “Definitely helps a lot as we’ve been dominant at home. We barely lose here. … So it means a lot to have the No. 1 seed.”
The last 76ers team to take the top seed in the East was led by Allen Iverson and coached by Larry Brown. That team went on to the NBA Finals, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. History, however, has not been kind to No. 1 seeds out East since then. In 10 of the past 12 seasons, the top seed in the Eastern Conference has failed to make the NBA Finals.
As it stands now, the Sixers’ opening round opponent is still to be determined, as the four play-in teams — Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics — will face off to settle the Nos. 7 and 8 seeds. Not that it matters, though, Simmons said.
“I don’t care who we play. That’s the point of having the No. 1 seed,” he said. “You feel like you’re the best team in your conference so you’re supposed to be able to play anybody. If we were scared, we shouldn’t be in this position.”