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76ers Clinch East's No. 1 Seed, Home-Court Advantage in 2021 NBA Playoffs

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMay 15, 2021

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, left, celebrates with forward Tobias Harris, center, and guard Ben Simmons, right, following the team's NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Chris Szagola/Associated Press

The Philadelphia 76ers clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference with Friday's 122-97 victory over the Orlando Magic, thus guaranteeing themselves home-court advantage until at least the NBA Finals.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it's impossible to truly replicate a traditional playoff atmosphere right now. Teams do at least get to play in their home arenas, a luxury they didn't have within the Walt Disney World Resort bubble.

The Sixers are allowed to fill up to 25 percent of Wells Fargo Center's capacity, which comes out to around 5,000 fans.

"For me, the one seed (in the East) is very important," star center Joel Embiid said. "Every game we play at home, it just feels like we're unbeatable. So we just gotta keep pushing, keep grinding out these wins, and do our best to keep winning."

Embiid's comment about feeling "unbeatable" rings true about the team the past two seasons. In 2019-20, the Sixers were 31-4 in the City of Brotherly Love and 12-26 elsewhere. The splits haven't been as stark this campaign (28-7 at home; 20-16 on the road) but largely tell the same story.

Especially with Philadelphia assured of posting the best record in the East, the stars are aligning for the franchise to put the finishing touches on the long-term vision Sam Hinkie launched in 2013.

While the Sixers' success has served to vindicate Hinkie, The Process might feel a little empty if it doesn't include a championship.

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So far, the current regime is also looking very smart for not overreacting to a first-round sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics in the 2020 postseason. The arrival of Daryl Morey as president of basketball operations didn't signal the kind of roster reshuffle that became common toward the end of his run with the Houston Rockets.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey, that wasn't due to a lack of trying, though. Pompey reported in January the Sixers "thought they had a deal" with the Houston Rockets for James Harden, only to see him land with the Brooklyn Nets.

The Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers' disappointing playoff exits a season ago were examples of how quickly the narrative can turn on a title contender.

With Giannis Antetokounmpo's free agency looming on the horizon, the Bucks felt the pressure to trade multiple first-round picks for Jrue Holiday and made a run at Bogdan Bogdanovic. The Clippers didn't do anything quite that drastic but fired head coach Doc Rivers and did some serious soul-searching.

The Sixers could reasonably tell themselves Ben Simmons' absence played a big role in their lackluster effort against the Celtics. That series might have unfolded differently if the current version of Tobias Harris (39.3 percent clip on three-pointers) was manning the 4 as well.

Should history repeat itself with everybody healthy, the same questions about the Embiid and Simmons partnership could rise to the fore once again.

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