The Philadelphia 76ers have been reduced to playing spoiler in recent days. In fact, the Sixers made the Brooklyn Nets’ chase for the Atlantic Division harder by beating them on March 11, then threw off the Indiana Pacers’ quest for the East’s No. 2 seed by upsetting them on March 16. However, the Sixers will soon get in the middle of a much more heated playoff race out West.
The Sixers have to visit the Los Angeles Clippers on March 20 and the Denver Nuggets on March 21. Both the Clippers and Nuggets are in a three-way race with the Memphis Grizzlies for the West’ No. 3 seed. Los Angeles had a stranglehold on that for most of the season, yet Memphis has caught up and Denver has surged with a 13-game winning streak.
Technically, the Clippers only have the fifth best record in the West, but they can’t get worse than the fourth seed because they still lead their division. In contrast, the Grizzlies and Nuggets have the misfortune of being in the same respective divisions as the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. Therefore, unless Memphis and Denver are virtually perfect for the next month, the highest seed they could possibly get is the No. 3 spot.
The Clippers would have home court in the first round no matter what, but it would look hollow if they had a worse record than the Nuggets and Grizzlies anyway. In addition, the Clippers would only have to face the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers or Utah Jazz as a No. 3 seed, but would get the Grizzlies or Nuggets as a No. 4. As such, the Clippers really need to make their playoff route easier by getting back to No. 3.
Beating the Sixers should help, given that Philadelphia is on a 13-game road losing streak and got blown out at home by Los Angeles on Feb. 11. But since the Sixers then have to visit the Nuggets the next night, Denver would likely get its advantage right back by winning. Of course, the Sixers could pull off an upset or two and make things harder for both teams.
In a tight race between the Clippers, Nuggets and Grizzlies, one upset could make the difference and alter the West’s entire playoff picture. Are the Sixers the team to make that kind of gigantic impact?