By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor
The NBA postseason is right around the corner. There are less than 20 games left in the regular season and playoff seeding is starting to take shape. Although time is running out, there is still time for the middle of the Eastern Conference to move around before the season comes to a close.
The Sixers currently sit at the sixth seed in the East and would face the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs if the season were to end right now. With only four and a half games separating seeds three through six that opponent can still change. With that being said, here is my ranking of the best possible first-round opponents for the Sixers from least to best.
#3: Toronto Raptors
This is the team I want to avoid at all costs in the first round. We all remember how this series went last season when they faced off, and with Toronto having home-court advantage again we could see the same thing as last season.
The Sixers have struggled against the Raptors so far this season as well. They have faced off three times and the Raptors have taken two of the games. There is still one more game between these two teams, but splitting the season series as best doesn’t make me any more confident for a playoff series.
Toronto has also been one of the few teams that have found a way to contain Joel Embiid. So far on the year, Embiid is only averaging five points per game against the defending champions.
Even though the Raptors are without Kawhi Leonard this year they are still a very deep team. They have a lot of young talent who now all have playoff and championship experience, and not to mention a very good coach in Nick Nurse. That is why the Sixers should want nothing to do with them in the first round.
#2: Boston Celtics
The choice between two and one was very close, but you never would like to see a longtime rival in a first-round matchup. Although for the first time in a long time, the Sixers have the edge between these two teams.
The Sixers won the season series with the Celtics 3-1 this year. What sticks out most about that, the Sixers have gone on the road and beaten the Celtics. With the Sixers possibly going to have to steal a game on the road to win a series, there has to be some confidence in facing a team they have already beaten on the road.
Size could tell the story if these teams face off as well. Boston does not have the frontcourt size to slow down Joel Embiid and Al Horford. The Sixers have also done a good job slowing down a certain Celtics star.
Jayson Tatum has emerged for the Celtics this season but has had some trouble against the Sixers. He is averaging 19 PPG against the Sixers (four points lower than his season average) and is only shooting 33% in those games.
Facing off against the Celtics in the playoffs is going to be no easy task, but I think it is a series the Sixers could pull off an upset in.
#1: Miami Heat
This is the team the Sixers should want to see to kick off the playoffs. Facing off against the Heat has to be the best-case scenario for the Sixers.
Although Miami has won the season series, it does not tell the whole story. The Heat stole a one point overtime victory and had a four point win that was not very convincing. Not to mention the Heat have yet to see this new look Sixers team.
Joel Embiid has had his way with Miami this season which is a good sign for the playoffs. He averaged 27.3 PPG, 13.3 RPG, and 2.3 APG in the matchup during the regular season. Those scoring numbers are his second-highest against any opponent he has seen more than once this season.
There is one big reason why the Sixers should want to see the Heat in the first round...experience. A lot of Miami’s core has not seen playoff action and it can be something the Sixers can exploit. Players like Nunn, Herro, and Robinson have been good key players for the Heat this season but none of them have played on a playoff stage yet.
Bam Adebayo has arguably been the best player for the Heat this season and he has only appeared in five playoff games. Although they have Jimmy Butler to lead them, I don’t think he will be able to make up for the lack of playoff experience for the rest of the roster.
The Sixers could go into Miami and steal a game in the playoffs. But most importantly, out of all the teams on this list, I think Miami is the least likely to come into Philadelphia and get a win. That is why a Sixers-Heat first-round matchup is the most ideal for the Sixers.