LOS ANGELES – Joel Embiid is determined to do more than just make the NBA playoffs. The all-star center wants the Sixers to be a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference.
“I think right now, we are two or three games out of the fourth seed,” Embiid said. “Now, we want home-court advantage.”
The top four seeds in the Eastern and Western conferences receive home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The seventh-seeded Sixers (30-25) are two games behind the fourth-seeded Washington Wizards with 27 games remaining.
On paper, the Sixers have a chance to pass Washington (33-24). They have arguably the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA. The Sixers will face only seven teams with winning records the rest of the way — the Wizards, Miami Heat (30-28), Cleveland Cavaliers (34-22), Milwaukee Bucks (32-25), Indiana Pacers (33-25), Minnesota Timberwolves (36-25), and Denver Nuggets (32-26).
They’ll face Miami, Cleveland, and Milwaukee twice. So that means only 10 games of the remaining 27 will be against teams currently with winning records.
Twenty-three of the 27 also come against squads from the East, the weaker of the two conferences.
“The last couple of games, we’ve been playing great,” said Embiid, whose squad has won five straight – all at home. “So we just have to keep the same momentum.”
He pointed out how the Sixers had battled back from a 24-point, second-half deficit to beat Miami, 104-102, without him last Wednesday, the final game before the break. Embiid missed the game because of a sore right ankle.
However, Ben Simmons had 18 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his sixth triple-double of the season, Dario Saric had a team-high 19 points, and Marco Belinelli added 17 off the bench in his first game as a Sixer. The guard made 3 of 5 three-pointers.
“So that was kind of great for the guys to know that they didn’t need me all the time,” said Embiid, whose squad has lost eight of the 11 games he has missed this season.
Embiid, 23, had been pushing himself to return from prior injuries so he wouldn’t let down his teammates. And he has been dealing with ailments all season. His hope is to be available the rest of the way.
Embiid believes the team’s ability to remain healthy – for the most part – has led to the winning streak. He also thinks the addition of Belinelli will help him individually and help the Sixers accomplish their postseason goal.
“The other night [last Wednesday against the Heat], I was probably the most happy person in that whole arena,” he said, “because maybe less double-teams. Even when the double-teams come, I trust that I can kick out and it’s going to be a bucket.”