WASHINGTON — The Sixers started out Sunday as the Eastern Conference's seventh seed. Before they hit the court against the Wizards, they were in sixth place, with a chance to move even higher if they could get past Washington.
The Cavaliers, the Bucks, and the Pistons — all teams fighting for playoff position — lost games on Sunday, making the race in the East even tighter than it was before.
The Sixers became the next casualty, losing, 109-94, to the Wizards, watching their seven-game win streak come to a halt, and falling back into seventh place in the standings. The loss evened the season series between the two teams.
The race in the East is such that tiebreakers and secondary tiebreakers could come into play once it's time for postseason seeding. First up is head-to-head record, next is record against the conference. So if it comes down to it, it looks like the Wizards will have the advantage as they improved to 22-15 against Eastern foes, while the Sixers fell to 18-14.
"It was imperative that we at least tie the season series with them," Bradley Beal said after leading the Wizards with 24 points. "That's a great ball club over there. They play hard, they never give up, and they're hungry for sure."
The Sixers have yet to lose at the Wells Fargo Center in 2018, and an improving team that has a clear home-court advantage is a threat when it comes to postseason seeding.
"They do not want to go play the 76ers in the first round without home-court advantage," said Candace Buckner, who covers the Wizards for the Washington Post. "I don't care what they would say, they do not want to go to Philadelphia in that crowd and against that team that plays so well in front of that crowd."
But if we're talking about what it could look like if the Sixers were to come up against a tiebreaker situation, it's worth looking past the Wizards, who are now just a half-game behind third-seeded Cleveland. And, the next two games afford us just that opportunity.
The Sixers will be in Miami on Tuesday and are 2-0 when facing the Heat this season. They'll be in Miami again on March 8 to close out the season series against a team that is right on the cusp of the East's playoff race.
From Miami the Sixers head to Cleveland to face LeBron James and Co. The Sixers lost the first two meetings with the Cavs this season, so it's a reversal of the situation against Miami. The Sixers have to win outright Thursday and on April 6 just to even the series.
It's not just about tiebreakers though. At this point in the season, with just 4.5 games separating the third and eighth seeds in the East, everyone is hungry.
"After the all-star break you're either fighting for the playoffs or you're not," T.J. McConnell said Sunday. "If you're in the hunt for the playoffs or in the playoffs and looking to get a better seed you're playing harder and executing at a high level and defending your butt off."
When the Sixers leave Cleveland, their next four games are also against Eastern teams that are in the hunt — Charlotte, Milwaukee, Charlotte again, and Miami.
The next six games could end up being the most important stretch of the Sixers' season.