76ers' Playoff Journey Begins
The No. 1 seed 76ers worked all season to earn home-court advantage in the 2021 playoffs.
Now it’s time to defend it.
The Sixers’ playoff run tips off Sunday, hosting the No. 8 Washington Wizards at The Center for Game 1 in a best-of-seven Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series.
The Sixers swept the Wizards in the three-game regular season series between the teams: winning 113-107 in the season opener on Dec. 23, 141-136 on Jan. 6, and 127-101 on March 12.
Joel Embiid was dominant in all three games - despite leaving the third game early due to injury - averaging 30.0 points and 9.7 rebounds.
The Sixers will have an extra boost for Game 1, as fan capacity at The Center grows to around 11,000 fans.
“I love it,” Doc Rivers said. “Fans are great. They bring great energy to the arena. There’s just something about the playoffs - it should have fans. The fact that we’re going to have that will be wonderful.”
En route to the No. 1 seed and coveted home-court advantage in the East, the Sixers have also picked up some notable honors along the way. On Thursday, the NBA announced Joel Embiid as a finalist for MVP and Ben Simmons as a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year.
“It’s well-deserved,” Rivers said. “It’s what they should be. Both of them, in my opinion, should win.”
Simmons, however, wasn’t willing to celebrate the finalist nod.
“I’ve got a long way to continue to get better defensively. There’s a lot of things I want to work on and get better at for my teammates, especially with this run coming up,” Simmons said. “I’ve got to play a big part and a big role in being that defensive anchor.”
“They’ve both had fantastic years in those two departments - being MVP of the league, and being the defensive player of the league,” Rivers said of Embiid and Simmons. “[I’m] happy for them, because that success means team success.”
Team success indeed.
The Sixers ended the regular season with the second-best defensive rating in the league (107.0), and fifth-best net rating (5.5). The team led the league in steals per game (9.1, tied with Memphis), and was second in blocks per game (6.2).
The Sixers will play Games 1 and 2 of the first round matchup at home, followed by Games 3 and 4 in Washington. Games 5 through 7 will alternate (as necessary) beginning in Philadelphia.
Sunday’s Game 1 tips at 1:00 p.m. ET.
The No. 8 Wizards earned their way into their first round duel with the No. 1 Sixers by way of the play-in tournament. After falling to the Celtics, 118-100, in their play-in opener, the Wizards came back hot Thursday against the Pacers, notching a dominant 142-115 victory.
The Wizards closed the regular season strong, going 17-6 in their final 23 games.
Washington’s leading scorer, Bradley Beal, fought Steph Curry for the NBA scoring title, ultimately finishing second with 31.3 points per game. Beal also averaged 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game.
Backcourt partner Russell Westbrook finished with the league’s assist title, averaging 11.3 assists per game. It was another season averaging a triple-double for Westbrook, who also posted 22.2 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.
The Sixers will be well-equipped with matchup options around the perimeter between the likes of Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, Danny Green, and George Hill. Rivers trusts his options:
“Just be us. We can’t be anybody different, never can be. Just be the best version of us. I think [our defenders are] prepared, they’re ready, they’re eager. That would be the message.”
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia / TNT
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