The finish line is almost here. The 76ers have just six regular-season games remaining. We’ve been saying for a while how the Sixers have the edge in the race for the Eastern Conference’s top spot. That didn’t take a basketball genius to see how the Sixers’ end-of-the-season schedule was a major advantage.
The Sixers have capitalized with a six-game win streak. Among their six remaining games, just one opponent has a winning record.
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A look at the stretch run
Both the math and the schedule are in the Sixers’ favor.
They lead the Eastern Conference with a 45-21 record with six games to go. The Sixers lead the Brooklyn Nets (43-24) by 2.5 games and the Milwaukee Bucks (42-24) by three games.
After Thursday’s 113-109 loss to Dallas, the Nets have five games left. The Bucks have six remaining games.
Since the Sixers own the tiebreaker vs. the Nets by beating them two out of three games this season, the Sixers would earn the No. 1 seed if both teams finished with identical records. Milwaukee, which went 3-0 against the Sixers, owns that tiebreaker.
Even if the Nets won all five remaining games and the Bucks won their final six, the Sixers would clinch the Eastern Conference by going 4-2.
With the remaining schedules, the Bucks look like more of a threat than the Nets. Here are the remaining schedules and opponents’ records.
Sixers: May 7 vs. New Orleans (30-36); May 8 vs. Detroit (20-47); May 11 at Indiana (31-35); May 13 at Miami (35-31); May 14 vs. Orlando (21-45); May 16 vs. Orlando (21-45).
Nets: May 8 at Denver (44-22); May 11 at Chicago (27-39); May 12 vs. San Antonio (31-34); May 15 vs. Chicago (27-39); May 16 vs. Cleveland (21-45).
Bucks: May 7 vs. Houston (16-50); May 10 at San Antonio (31-34); May 11 vs. Orlando (21-45); May 13 at Indiana (31-35); May 15 vs. Miami (35-31); May 16 at Chicago (27-39).
Two things have helped the Sixers be in this position. They are relatively healthy, although Furkan Korkmaz (right ankle sprain) is out for Friday’s game vs. the Pelicans. In addition, the schedule has been less than challenging.
“Being in first place is good. It has been a goal all year long, and we want to sustain it,” forward Tobias Harris said earlier this week. “Looking to ride this thing out, being as healthy as possible ... ”
David Murphy writes that the Sixers are tantalizingly close to securing themselves a cakewalk to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Keith Pompey writes that Doc Rivers reflects on what he’s learned about himself in his 22nd season as an NBA head coach.
Pompey writes that Matisse Thybulle, a lockdown defender, wants ultimately to be remembered as someone who expanded his game.
With so much talk about Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid being MVP candidates, Murphy writes that Steph Curry makes a good argument to be included in the conversation.
One of the reasons for the Sixers’ success is their ability to dominate teams with losing records.
Nets’ James Harden confident in himself and his team
On Thursday, Brooklyn Nets All-Star James Harden spoke to the media for the first time since aggravating the hamstring injury that has kept him out of the past 16 games.
Since acquiring him from Houston on Jan. 13, the Nets are 26-7 in games Harden has played. He has an optimistic view about his comeback and the Nets’ chances.
“I’m very confident I’ll be back before the postseason,” Harden told reporters during a Zoom interview.
He was asked if he would play before the end of the regular season.
“The plan is to hopefully play a couple of games before the postseason,” Harden said. “We are just taking it one day at a time.”
Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have appeared together only seven games. A nine-time All-Star, Harden says he’s not worried about the lack of time together
“Not an issue at all,” Harden said. “One of the things that a lot of teams don’t have is talent. We don’t have to worry about that aspect. We can control the rebounding, and the screening, we can watch film and get better at that, but skill-wise, we are elite. I am not worried at all.”
Tonight: New Orleans Pelicans at Sixers, 7 p.m., Wells Fargo Center, NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus
Tomorrow: Detroit Pistons at Sixers, 8 p.m. Wells Fargo Center, NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus
Tuesday: Sixers at Indiana Pacers, 8 p.m., Bankers Life Fieldhouse, NBC Sports Philadelphia
Thursday: Sixers at Miami Heat, 7:30 p.m., American Airlines Arena, NBC Sports Philadelphia
Next Friday: Orlando Magic at Sixers, 8 p.m., Wells Fargo Center, NBC Sports Philadelphia
Passing the rock
Question: Will we be seeing more of Dwight Howard in the playoffs? He is battle tested. — Jim Lang on Facebook
Answer: Thanks for the question, Jim. My gut reaction is that we will be seeing less of Dwight Howard in the playoffs. Joel Embiid has already talked about possibly playing between 36 and 38 minutes. If that is the case, then Howard won’t come close to playing the number of minutes he has in the regular season.
Howard is averaging 17.3 minutes, but that figure would likely be lower had Embiid not missed 19 games. So Howard might play fewer minutes, which means he could show even more energy and continue to control the offensive and defensive glass.