The Philadelphia 76ers entered the final week of the regular season in an excellent position. With just four games left on the year, Philly needed just one win to officially lock in the Eastern Conference's first seed.
On Tuesday, the Sixers started the week off with a game against the Indiana Pacers. Although they were missing a handful of players, including Joel Embiid, Indiana had its fair share of absences as well.
In a game many expected the Sixers to win, the 76ers came up short and took on a 103-94 loss. With a day off on Wednesday, the Sixers returned to the floor on Thursday night for a matchup on the road against the Miami Heat.
With Joel Embiid, Shake Milton, and Furkan Korkmaz back in the mix, the Sixers got healthier and received another chance to pick up first place officially. However, the Heat weren't going to be the ones to allow the Sixers to pick up the top spot.
For the second-straight game, the Sixers suffered a loss. Unlike the Indiana game, though, the 76ers were hardly competitive in Miami. After getting destroyed in the first quarter, the Sixers failed ever to make the matchup competitive, which led to a 106-94 loss against a potential playoff opponent in round two.
“I thought the Indiana game, we were all trying to do too much and Joel (Embiid) was out,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers explained. “I thought Miami just kicked our butt. I didn’t think we were ready to play, honestly. I didn’t think we put a lot into that game. They did, and so they get the credit."
Although the Sixers delayed picking up the first seed by losing two straight games, they finally clinched on Friday night after defeating the Orlando Magic. While the strength of their opponent certainly made picking up a victory much easier, Rivers explained what exactly factored into his team bouncing back.
“When we’re playing that way, when Ben’s aggressive, Seth’s aggressive, the ball’s moving, we’re a good basketball team," Rivers said. "When we don’t move the ball, we become stagnant, and we’re not great offensively. We have to be that for us to be good in the playoffs.
"Of all the things offensively tonight, obviously Seth (Curry) making shots, Ben (Simmons) playing at a pace, I thought the ball moved again. I thought there was a stretch early in the year where we felt like we were almost unguardable because the ball was moving. I thought that kind of gone away a little bit. Tonight, to see it happen again, was great.”
The Sixers have just one game remaining on the schedule this season. It's unclear how many minutes the key rotation guys will acquire, considering Philly has nothing left to accomplish this regular season. Still, it might be in Philly's best interest to allow the key rotation players to continue getting some reps, so they feel as comfortable as possible heading into the playoffs.