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Grotz: Playoff scenarios, play-in wishes mean nothing as ‘second season’ looms for Sixers

PHILADELPHIA — If it wasn’t the strangest last day of an NBA regular season, it was right there.

In the Eastern Conference, only the top-seeded Celtics woke up Sunday knowing exactly what their seed would be. In the West, the day began with three-way tie for first among the Nuggets, Timberwolves and Thunder.

Three things had to occur for the Sixers to gain one of the top six seeds in the East; a win coupled with losses by the Magic or the Pacers, or for Sixers fans, setbacks by both of those other teams.

On a day the Sixers could have wound up with the fifth seed, they were seventh because every team in that group triumphed in runaway fashion.

The Magic finished fifth in the conference, the Pacers sixth, the Sixers fresh out of luck and heading for the play-in round. Faster than you could say letdown, all the Sixers (47-35) got for winning eight in a row down the homestretch was a home play-in game as the seventh seed Wednesday against Jimmy Butler and the Heat. Hopefully Joel Embiid can make it. He wasn’t around on Sunday to say.

“He did everything in practice yesterday,” Sixers coach Nick Nurse said. “We just decided out of caution to hold him out. He’ll be ready to go.”

Embiid was scratched 45 minutes before tipoff, which wasn’t surprising as he jarred his surgically repaired left knee in each of the previous two games. There would be no Willis Reed hitting the floor on one leg images to carry the Sixers to a fifth or sixth playoff seed.

That wasn’t all. Kevin Ollie, who played three different stints with the Sixers and coached UConn to the 2014 NCAA championship, running over locals Jay Wright and Villanova and Phil Martelli and Saint Joseph’s to get there, took the podium as the interim coach of the Nets.

Ollie confirmed he’d been putting evil thoughts into the heads of Nets players. You know, this is your last game together as a team, make it count, finish what you started this season and embrace this once in a lifetime spoiler opportunity.

“This is another challenge for us,” Ollie said. “We can be spoilers with this opportunity. You should always be competing like your life depends on it because tomorrow is not promised to you.”

The Nets (32-50) were spoilers all right. They ruined the afternoon for fans hoping for a competitive game. They even took the joy away from scoreboard watching.

All the Eastern Conference games started at 1, and that made monitoring results relatively easy. Initially the Bucks were thumping the Magic and the Pacers were killing the Hawks. The Sixers sputtered a bit early on as well, Villanova memory Mikal Bridges’ triple for the Nets knotting the score at 16 with five minutes left in the opening frame. Minutes later the Nets took a slight lead. But that was about it for the upset bid.

While the Pacers poured it on the Hawks much of the day, the Magic needed a comeback to defeat the Bucks. Don’t blame the Bucks’ collapse on their coach, Doc Rivers. No way did he want the Knicks to jump over his team into second place in the seedings, where they will open the playoffs against the Sixers, providing Philly prevails in the play-in. Then again, Doc must have known that Embiid and that knee would be one more series tired before they potentially got together.

At any rate, no team knows what the Sixers are up against in this second season better than Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris, who scored 26 and 21 points, respectively, en route to a 107-86 win over the Nets. Five of the previous six seasons the Sixers were ousted in the conference semifinals, including last season when they blew a 3-1 lead to the Celtics.

“I’ll say this … We were kind of in control of our own destiny,” Maxey said. “Like, we should have won games before. That’s kind of the position that we put ourselves in. But that’s OK. I keep saying that for us, our main goal is to be stepping in the right direction come playoff time. And I think we’re doing that.”

The Heat (46-36) are always a formidable playoff opponent in a seven-game series. A loss to Miami, which split four games with the Sixers this season, and the Sixers would have to defeat the survivor of the other play-in between the Hawks and the Bulls. The reward for that would be a series against the Celtics, likely without a completely healthy center.

“We know who he is, we know how he plays, we know how he wants the ball, kind of the spacing and different things like that,” Maxey said. “So, I think we will be ready. I think Miami will be ready and it’s going to be a tough game. That’s who they are. They bring toughness. And we do, as well.”

The Sixers, like Ollie’s Nets, could soon be playing their last game together as a team. This would be a good time for them to play like their lives depended on it.

Contact Bob Grotz at



Source: Berkshire mont

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