The 76ers are in position to turn their primary goal into a reality.
As the halfway point of their NBA season has arrived, the Sixers, at 21-20, have posted their best half-season mark since the 2011-12 campaign after playing the league’s toughest schedule, according to teamrankings.com. And with a more favorable schedule the rest of the way, there is no doubt that making the playoffs is an expected reality.
The Sixers have the eighth-best record in the Eastern Conference. They are a half-game behind the same Milwaukee Bucks (23-21) squad they’ll be entertaining Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center for the seventh spot. The Sixers are just 21/2 games behind the fifth-place Washington Wizards (26-20). Because they’ve played only 41 games, the Sixers are tied in the loss column with the Wizards and had one less loss than Milwaukee and sixth-place Indiana (24-21), which played the Lakers late Friday night.
The conference’s top eight teams at the conclusion of the 82-game regular season advance to the playoffs. As a result, the Sixers have plenty of time to not only secure a postseason berth – but improve upon their seeding.
One of the league’s hottest teams, the Sixers won six of their last seven games heading into the halfway point. Their last two victories were upsets over the conference’s top-seeded Boston Celtics (Thursday) and second-seeded Raptors (Monday).
The Celtics (34-12) were without point guard Kyrie Irving, who was voted an NBA All-Star Game starter, while the Sixers were without JJ Redick (small cortical crack in the fibular head of his left leg).
“They are still a great team,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said following Thursday’s 89-80 victory at TD Garden. “You saw how hard they play and how many good players they have.”
The Sixers led by as many as 21 points in the fourth quarter. Boston cut the lead to seven with 2 minutes, 1 second to go. But Sixers reserve point guard T.J. McConnell made three out of four foul shot down the stretch to secure the victory.
“For us to hold onto the lead, close out the game in, at times, not a pretty way is a fantastic result for us,” Brown said.
The Sixers now turn their attention to a banged-up Bucks squad. All-star starting forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (right knee soreness), reigning rookie of the year Malcolm Brogdon (personal), Jabari Parker (post surgery, left knee) and Mirza Teletovic (pulmonary emboli) are all expected to be sidelined on Saturday.
This will be the first of four regular-season meetings between the two squads. The Bucks (23-21) have won the last two meetings. However, they lose a lot with Antetokounmpo.