We knew last night had the potential to be a very big night for the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers were hosting the spiraling-out-the-clock Memphis Grizzlies, while the three teams ahead of them (Cleveland, Indiana and Washington) all had tough road games on the docket. With a Sixers win and a couple other East losses, the Sixers would finally be able to make the huge jump in the standings they've seemingly been poised for since the All-Star break.
Well, last night couldn't have gone much closer to plan. Though the Cavs did manage to squeak out an impressive shorthanded win over Toronto - strengthening their hold on the 3-seed - the Sixers thumped the Grizzlies, while Indiana lost a squeaker in New Orleans and Washington fell in San Antonio. And thus this morning, for the first time in many, many moons, Sixers fans woke up this morning to find their team currently in position for home-court advantage in the upcoming playoffs. That's right: The Sixers are currently the fourth seed in the East.
Taking care of business against Memphis wasn't that much of a struggle for the Sixers, either. The 119-105 final score belies how early this game was over - despite also leading by only 14 at halftime, a 41-point third quarter for the home team ensured that Brett Brown wasn't going to have to play his starters in the fourth quarter, getting 'em out of there without any exceeding the 25-minute mark. (Or the 15-point mark - all five starters scored between 13 and 15, some classic Spurs-like efficiency and balance.)
Now, at 40-30, the Sixers are in position to ensure that their first playoff game in six years is a home game. They're not exactly secure in the fourth seed at the moment - Indiana is also 10 games over .500, but percentage points worse with their one extra win and loss, and the Sixers' schedule isn't 100 percent cupcakes from here or anything. But while things won't always be as easy as the Grizzlies at home in the 12 remaining games for the Ballers, they're not getting that hard again, either - just four games come against teams over .500, and all four of those games are at the Wells Fargo Center.
Meanwhile, the Pacers play seven of their last 10 against playoff teams (four on the road), and the Wiz do so in five of their last 11.
And all the Sixers really need to do at this point is hold serve. Right now, the standings are pretty much exactly how we want them: We play the Pacers at home in the first round, and avoid a possible matchup with LeBron until the (unlikely) conference finals. The Pacers aren't a pushover by any means - they're the only team to beat the Sixers in Philly this calendar year - but I'd rather play them than Cleveland or Washington (especially with John Wall back), and Miami and Milwaukee are a little too far out of the mix at this point. Besides, if the Robert Covington we've gotten the last six games (15 and 5 on 59 percent shooting and 51 percent from three) is the one who shows up for the playoffs, I like our chances against pretty much anybody.