For the Philadelphia 76ers, the 2021 NBA Playoffs are just about here. After wrapping up game 72 of 72 on Sunday night, the Sixers will have the next few days to sit back and watch the fairly new play-in tournament unfold.
At this point, seeds three through six know who they will face in the first round of the postseason, but the Sixers and the Brooklyn Nets are currently unclear on who they will play. With four teams set to play over the next couple of days, the Sixers have a few potential suitors for the first round.
The great news for the Sixers is that they have a favorable record against all four potential opponents combined. When playing the Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, Washington Wizards, and the Indiana Pacers, the 76ers are 11-1 this season.
Regardless of how successful they were against those four teams overall, which matchups would be more ideal for the Sixers to get a swift first-round victory next week? Let's rank them from worst to first.
4. Washington Wizards
At the beginning of the year, the Washington Wizards were a bit of a laughingstock around the league. Through the first 20 games of the season, the Wizards started off 5-15, looking like they would be nothing more than bottom feeders in the East.
But then Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook helped turn it all around. While they wrapped the year up with a losing record of 34-38, Washington's been hot in the last couple of months and need just one more win to crack the playoffs.
While the Sixers swept the Wizards this season, the fact that Washington has two stars that are battle-tested in the playoffs doesn't make them an ideal matchup for Philly. Everybody would likely have their money on the Sixers in the first round, but many more favorable opponents are on the list.
3. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers are a mess this season. With injuries and a fresh head coach that might be on the hot seat already, they don't pose a significant threat to the Eastern Conference this season. However, the Pacers tend to play well against the 76ers.
Just last season, the Pacers defeated the Sixers three out of four games. This year, Philly won two out of three, but the first outing in January was no walk in the park as the Sixers had to pull off a miraculous comeback win in Indiana.
As I mentioned above, the Sixers are 11-1 against possible first-round opponents this season, with the Pacers being the only team to defeat them once. The Sixers are the better team, but Indiana could be a pesky first-round opponent.
2. Boston Celtics
History doesn't bode well here for the Sixers. During the 2018 playoff run, the Sixers and the Boston Celtics met in the second round of the playoffs. By Game 5, the Celtics sent the Sixers packing, beginning the trend of Philly struggling to get by the second round of the postseason.
Two years later, the Sixers and the Celtics met again in the playoffs during the first round. Without Ben Simmons, the Sixers collapsed. Joel Embiid played well for himself, but even his personal dominance couldn't help the Sixers prevent a sweep.
Being 0-2 in playoff series against Boston over the last three years doesn't matter much here, though. It's clear the Celtics aren't the team they were in previous years. With Jaylen Brown out for the year, the Celtics are missing one of their most reliable scorers.
And who's going to guard Joel Embiid? Round one versus Boston could be a major confidence booster for the big man who would surely seek revenge against the team that put the only playoff sweep on his resumè.
1. Charlotte Hornets
Throughout the first half of the season, the Hornets looked like a playoff team. As the season started to conclude, though, they began to fall. Perhaps, the absence of former Celtics standout Gordon Hayward has something to do with that.
Charlotte barely cracked the play-in tournament as they picked up the tenth seed. They might be an exciting team to watch when healthy, but they're mostly young and inexperienced.
Plus, the Sixers haven't had any problems against the Hornets over the last five seasons -- especially this year. In early January, the Sixers picked up their 12th-straight win over Charlotte with a 127-112 victory. Two nights later, they defeated the Hornets again for a 13th time with a 118-101 win. Although the February outing was slightly closer, the Sixers still swept the Hornets in three games during the regular season.