For the first time in 20 years, the Philadelphia 76ers will enter the playoffs as the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Their third chance at clinching the number one seed was the charm as they blowout the Orlando Magic on Friday night in Philadelphia, 122-97.
Seth Curry scored 20 points on 7-for-9 shooting. Joel Embiid posted 13 points and 11 rebounds in 23 minutes. Ben Simmons had 13 points and nine assists.
Everyone was available for the Sixers besides Matisse Thybulle (left hand swelling). A slew of key Orlando players were out with injuries, including former Sixers Markelle Fultz, James Ennis and Michael Carter-Williams.
Friday’s win was not the Sixers’ best or biggest of the season given the competition, but the team has earned home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. Playing at home has been a significant edge for the Sixers in recent seasons, too. They’re 57-9 at the Wells Fargo Center since the start of the 2019-20 season.
Here’s three takeaways:
Sticking with Scott and the bench
With Dwight Howard suspended for a game after picking up his 16th technical foul of the season Thursday, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers needed to adjust.
Mike Scott checked in as the Sixers’ backup center late in the first quarter and played in an all-bench lineup alongside Tyrese Maxey, George Hill, Shake Milton, and Furkan Korkmaz. That lineup played well. Scott knocked down a top-of-the-key three-pointer. Korkmaz converted two threes in his first stint, too.
Embiid is one step closer to the postseason
Embiid was much more active from the start than he’d been the night prior during the Sixers’ loss to the Heat. He grabbed six rebounds within the first six minutes after a two-rebound game in Miami, drew six first-quarter free throws, and was engaged defensively, sometimes coming out beyond the three-point line in pick-and-roll coverage.
Unlike Thursday night, the Sixers’ opponent was the team irritated by the officiating as its deficit steadily grew. Shortly after Magic head coach Steve Clifford was called for a technical foul, Embiid and Dwayne Bacon were each given technicals, as well. Bacon appeared to shove Embiid following a foul on Curry. No one on the Magic seemed pleased with anything that was happening as the Sixers extended their lead to 23 points at halftime.
Though Embiid only shot 3-for-9 from the floor and got into foul trouble, he looked healthy. Barring something catastrophic, he should be available for game one of the Sixers’ first-round series.
At the end of a difficult, pandemic-influenced season with minimal rest for players, it seems the Sixers will enter the postseason in a good place health-wise. They’ve balanced pushing for the number one seed and maintaining the health of their stars effectively thus far.
Joel Embiid ended his postgame press conference with… “Trust the process.” I’m crying.
The unexpected happened
For a second straight game, a former Sixer opened the game in a groove. With all due respect to 22-year-old Ignas Brazdeikis, he’s not as likely a candidate for a scoring spree as Jimmy Butler. Brazdeikis, who was acquired by the Sixers in the George Hill trade and waived on April 8, poured in 10 first-period points on 4-for-4 shooting. He ended the game with a Magic-high 21 points. As a team, Orlando made 6 of its first 7 three-pointers.
Another “you don’t see that every day” moment from Friday’s game: A shot-clock malfunction placed PA announcer Matt Cord in the spotlight at the beginning of the second half. Cord informed players when there were 15 or 10 seconds left in a possession, and he counted down once the shot clock hit five. He was relieved of that duty late in the third quarter when two shot clocks were set up on the floor along the baselines.
Despite the Magic’s hot early shooting, the Sixers never trailed by more than two points. Orlando would’ve needed to play a near-flawless game to win.
For the Magic, the next important event on the NBA calendar is the draft lottery. For the Sixers, it’s obviously the postseason. They’ll be watching the play-in tournament, which will begin next Tuesday, to learn their first-round opponent.
The 48-23 Sixers will conclude their season Sunday in the second of a mini-series against the 21-50 Magic.