ATLANTA – A portion of Philadelphians is giddy that the 76ers have secured 50 wins for the first time since 2000-01.
Brett Brown is not among them. The Sixers’ coach is greedy.
“We want to get 52 wins,” he said. “We want to hold that third spot. That’s what I most want to do.”
The Sixers (50-30) must win both of their remaining games to reach Brown’s coveted win total. They currently have the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Winning their final two games is the best way to guarantee keeping it.
Otherwise, they would have to lose one fewer game than the Cleveland Cavaliers (50-31), who are a half-game behind them after Monday’s 123-109 home win over the New York Knicks. Cleveland’s regular-season finale also is against the Knicks, Wednesday at home.
Monday’s victory gave the Cavaliers the Central Division title. As division winners, they hold the tiebreaker over the Sixers should both teams finish with the same record. That’s why the Sixers want to control their own destiny by sweeping their remaining two games.
They’ll attempt to get win No. 51 Tuesday night on the road against the Atlanta Hawks. Then the Sixers will host the playoff-bound Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday in a key game for both teams for seeding purposes. The Bucks (44-37) are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings after Monday’s home win over Orlando and Miami’s home loss to Oklahoma City that dropped the Heat to 43-38 and the seventh seed.
But the Sixers will tell you their focus at the moment is on the Hawks, who are tied with the Magic for the conference’s worst record (24-57).
They’re also a team the Sixers defeated 101-91 here on March 30. The contest was more lopsided than the margin of victory suggests. Brown basically took it easy on Atlanta, who is coached by his close friend Mike Budenholzer, once it was obvious the Sixers would win.
Ben Simmons totaled 13 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists, two blocks, one steal and two turnovers in 26 minutes, 30 seconds. He already had the triple-double secured midway through the third quarter. Simmons picked up his 10th assist when he found Richaun Holmes for a dunk with 5 minutes, 5 seconds remaining in the quarter. At that time, the rookie point guard already had 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Meanwhile, JJ Redick scored 11 of his 19 points in the third quarter. After leading by six points at the half, the Sixers opened up a 27-point cushion on Redick’s three-pointer with 8.1 seconds left in the third.
Yet, Brown doesn’t want his squad overconfident. The Hawks are coming off consecutive road wins over playoff-bound teams: the second-seeded Boston Celtics (112-106 on Sunday) and the eighth-seeded Washington Wizards (103-97 on Friday).
“We are going down to Atlanta with the appropriate fear and respect,” Brown said. “We want to win. Then we’ll come home and close out our year.”