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Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, 76ers Clinch 2021 NBA Playoff Spot with Rout of Hawks

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistApril 29, 2021

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons talk during an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Matt Slocum/Associated Press

The Philadelphia 76ers have far bigger objectives this season, but goal one is officially in the books.

Philadelphia clinched an Eastern Conference playoff spot Wednesday with a 127-83 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.

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Philly has officially clinched a playoff spot ✅ https://t.co/xr5MklYWPS

This is the fourth consecutive season the 76ers have made the playoffs, although they failed to get past the second round in 2018 or 2019. The 2019 season ended in heartbreaking fashion when Kawhi Leonard drilled a buzzer-beater to win Game 7 for the Toronto Raptors, but Philadelphia took a step back last season and lost in the first round to the Boston Celtics.

It didn't just lose, it got swept and lost Game 2 by 27 points.

A reality of coming up short in the playoffs despite having one of the most talented cores in the Eastern Conference hovered over the franchise heading into the offseason following that sweep, so it made a number of drastic changes.

Out went head coach Brett Brown and in came Doc Rivers. 

Rivers wasn't the only notable name to join the ranks, as Daryl Morey became the president of basketball operations after splitting with the Houston Rockets. The team also bolstered its shooting around Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid by adding Seth Curry and Danny Green while also adding depth to the frontcourt with the Dwight Howard signing.

The moves paid off, as the 76ers have spent the majority of the season competing for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and look like legitimate championship contenders.

A major reason for that is Embiid playing like an MVP candidate, but the supporting cast around him, Simmons and Tobias Harris has also played well enough to allow the team to survive injury spells and stave off prolonged slumps.

The question now is whether Philadelphia can emerge from a top-heavy Eastern Conference that features Giannis Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks and the star-studded Brooklyn Nets that bring Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving to the table.

It will be difficult to see this season as a success if the 76ers cannot get past the second round again, but they look the part of contenders and have now clinched their spot in the postseason.

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