Before 76ers coach Brett Brown stunned the media during his pregame news conference by announcing that Markelle Fultz would return to action on Monday against the Denver Nuggets, he talked about some of the team’s goals after having a playoff berth clinched.
Tops on that list is to earn a top-four seed for obvious reasons.
“We want home-court advantage,” Brown said. “We felt like we were going to be in the playoffs for a while. And now there is some real stuff right in front of us that we control our own destiny.”
The Wells Fargo Center, especially since 2018 arrived, has been an unforgiving place for the Sixers’ opponents. For the season, the Sixers are 25-11 at home. Yet, since Jan. 1, they have won 18 of 19 games at the Wells Fargo Center after the Denver win.
The one loss at home during this span was a 101-98 defeat to the Indiana Pacers on March 13 (the Sixers lost one other home game, but it was in London against the Boston Celtics on Jan. 11).
— Marc Narducci (@sjnard) March 27, 2018
“Why wouldn’t we [want homecourt advantage] when somebody comes out and tells us all that we lost one time [at home] since Christmas?” Brown said. “This is a special home court, and Philadelphia will turn out for the playoffs.”
That is not exactly a bold prediction. After Monday’s sellout crowd of 20,585, the Sixers have sold out 34 of 36 home games. They are averaging 20,274 per game.
The Sixers (43-30), who have won seven in a row, are fourth in the Eastern Conference, a game behind third-place Cleveland and a half-game ahead of fifth-place Indiana. The Sixers have five more home games: against New York, Brooklyn, Cleveland, Dallas and Milwaukee.
After Monday’s win, Brown talked about the impact of the crowd on his young team.
“You hear and feel what we hear and feel,” Brown said. “It is not to be dismissed. It is real, and our guys feed off that.”
Ben Simmons, who had seven points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists and just one turnover against Denver, agreed with Brown about the importance of having home advantage in the playoffs.
“It’s huge for us,” Simmons said. “I think the stat was like 76 percent of home-court teams move on to the next round. It’ll be huge if we get that. We have the best fan base in the NBA.”
Center Joel Embiid had a different take, although he acknowledged how important the fans are.
“I don’t think it matters to me, but to everybody else, it matters a lot just playing at home where we have a great crowd,” said Embiid, who had 20 points and 13 rebounds Monday. “I think since January, we only lost one game here and we got to keep it going and I think the crowd will help us a lot.”
On Monday, the crowd, like the Sixers, really came to life in the third quarter, when the home team outscored Denver, 34-15.
“If you can get a loud, proud arena and people as passionate as we clearly have in the building, people, especially young guys, respond to that,” Brown said. “It is one of several reasons why we feel the home-court advantage can serve us well.”