The 76ers are focused on locking up home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
One could argue that it might not be enough. The Sixers may need to finish third to gain an easier path to the Eastern Conference finals even with their improved roster. But their chances of advancing that far could take a hit by remaining in the fifth spot for the rest of the season.
The top four seeds in the Eastern and Western Conferences receive home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
If the season ended on Wednesday, the fourth-seeded Boston Celtics would have had the home-court advantage over the Sixers in an opening-round series. Both teams entered Thursday night’s games with 37-21 records. However, the Celtics own the tiebreaker because of a 3-0 mark against the Sixers this season.
Losing to Boston is nothing new for Philly. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, the Sixers are 3-21 against the Celtics, including and Eastern Conference semifinals series setback in May.
So that’s not an ideal matchup even for a Sixers squad that revamped its roster before the trade deadline by adding Tobias Harris and reserves Mike Scott, Boban Marjanovic, Jonathon Simmons, and James Ennis.
But for overall peace of mind, the focus in the final 24 regular-season games is on locking up home-court advantage to get a more manageable path through the postseason.
“Our goal is to win every single game the rest of the season,” Harris said Wednesday. “We're going into every game like they are playoff games. That being said, in the East, there are a lot of good teams up there ahead of us. But if we handle our business, we can help ourselves and move up.
“We are not worried about anybody. We're ready to bring it.”
The scheduling favors the Sixers. According to tankathon.com, they have the ninth-easiest remaining schedule. Their opponents had a combined .485 winning percentage. Fourteen of their final 24 games will be against teams that were under .500 as of Wednesday.
The Celtics, in contrast, have the sixth-toughest remaining schedule, as their opponents had a combined .526 mark.
Health, however, also will be a major factor. The Sixers are without All-Star center Joel Embiid for at least a week because of tendinitis in his left knee. They have three scheduled games over the next week: Thursday at home against the Heat, Saturday at home against the Portland Trail Blazers, and Monday at the New Orleans Pelicans.
“We have to use these games, especially these next [three], even without Joel, to build chemistry,” Harris said. “We have the right pieces to make things happen. So we have to build that chemistry back.”
The Sixers should finish no worse than 2-1 during their stretch against the Heat (26-30), Trail Blazers (34-23), and Pelicans (26-33). Embiid should be back for their key matchup at the Oklahoma City Thunder on Feb. 28.
The team has one goal during this stretch.