Two years ago, former Sixers head coach Brett Brown set a definitive goal ahead of the 2019-2020 NBA season. One year after the 76ers notched the third seed in the Eastern Conference and fell short in the second round of the playoffs, Brown made it clear he wanted his team to grab the first seed in the East.
As we know, the Sixers came up incredibly short. After entering the 2020 playoffs as the East's sixth seed, the 76ers found themselves swept in the first round of the playoffs against the Boston Celtics. After coming up short, Brett Brown was canned, and the Sixers moved on to former Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers.
When Rivers came into the picture last offseason, he also made it clear that he wanted the Sixers to lock up the first seed in the East as home-court advantage could go a long way in the playoffs. After a shortened season, the Sixers finally achieved their goal. With 49 wins and 23 losses, the Sixers locked in the first seed.
Can they repeat last year's regular-season success during the 2021-2022 NBA season? ESPN seems to believe it's doubtful. While predicting the outcome for each conference ahead of next season, ESPN's insiders seem to believe the Sixers won't land in first place next year. And second place wasn't an option either.
First, it's the Brooklyn Nets. As Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden are expected to get healthier, it comes as no surprise the Nets are a clear-cut favorite to win the East. After all, they were breathing down the Sixers' necks last year all the way until the end of the regular season despite having several stars miss tons of games.
Behind Brooklyn is the reigning NBA Champions, the Milwaukee Bucks. Had it not been for injuries, the Nets might've come out on top of Milwaukee in the playoffs last year. Regardless if that was the case or not, the Bucks are still an excellent team across the board and will remain a direct threat to the 76ers for years to come.
After the Nets and the Bucks, then come the 76ers. Ever since the 2017-2018 season, the Sixers have notched the third seed twice out of four seasons. ESPN seems to think they'll do it a third time this upcoming season with a 50-32 record.
"It is after those two juggernauts where things get a lot more interesting, as the teams listed Nos. 3 to 6 in the forecast — the 76ers, Heat, Hawks and Celtics — are separated by a combined five games in our projected standings."First up are the Sixers, who will enter training camp waiting to see if All-Star point guard Ben Simmons will follow through on his pledge to not show up if he hasn’t been traded by training camp."
The Sixers want to remain in the driver's seat of the East during the regular season to ensure they'll have a home-court advantage in the playoffs. If they can't achieve that for the second season, it won't be a huge deal.
Last year, the Sixers got everything they wanted at the end of the regular season by clinching home-court advantage throughout the playoffs and facing the lowest-seeded teams throughout the first two rounds. The results remained the same.
The 76ers need to find a way to get past the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Regular season wins won't matter when the playoffs roll around anyway.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.