The Philadelphia 76ers are prohibitive favorites to earn the fifth seed.
The Philadelphia 76ers open their Orlando schedule with a game of critical importance. On August 1 — “opening day” for most teams — the Sixers will battle the Indiana Pacers. The two teams are dead even in the standings at 39-26.
Right now, the Pacers hold the tiebreaker, making them the de facto five-seed. A win, however, would push Philadelphia into the five slot, and give them a head start in their quest to move up the Eastern Conference ladder.
We’ve had countless debates on The Sixer Sense Podcast about whether or not the Sixers should want to move up in the standings. With no home-court advantage, a move from sixth to fifth (or even fourth) does nothing more than ensure an earlier meeting with the Bucks — assuming Philadelphia gets past the first round, of course.
While I subscribe to the idea that the six-seed presents an easier path to the Finals on paper, the difference — in my opinion — is negligible. And, given the Sixers’ somewhat uneven performance up to this point in the season, building momentum is more important than maintaining the sixth seed via intentional losses.
Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, the Sixers’ chances of moving up in the standings spiked considerably on Friday. Victor Oladipo announced he will not join the Pacers in Orlando, instead opting to focus on rehab. That leaves Indiana without its biggest star.
Context is of course important here. Oladipo has played just 13 games at half-speed this season, which means Indiana has achieved its position in the standings mostly without him. Even so, there’s no denying the talent of even a half-speed Oladipo, so his absence is a notable one.
The Pacers have battled the Sixers hard in recent years, and Indiana has the personnel to counter Philadelphia’s unique size and physicality. Without Oladipo, however, the Pacers are an objectively weaker team on paper. If the Sixers don’t crumble in a neutral environment, they are the favorites to earn the five-seed.
Some projection models view the Sixers in a very favorable light. Philadelphia has the raw talent to exceed expectations in a wide-open Eastern Conference, even if certain pieces don’t entirely fit. Again, momentum is essential, and the Sixers should try to win as many games as possible. This is the healthiest the Sixers have been all season, and they should take advantage of it.
The five-seed is very attainable. Even the four-seed is within reach. Oladipo’s absence — unfortunate as it is — does improve the Sixers’ odds.
Best wishes to Oladipo as he prepares for next season.