Call it the curse of the overachiever. At the beginning of the season, if you'd told Sixers fans that in mid-March, they'd be going down to the wire at home against the third seed in the Eastern Conference but coming up just short, you'd consider it a pretty reasonable state of affairs. But this Sixers squad has so eclipsed expectations this year that not only are they legitimately competing with the No. 3 seed, they're legitimately competing for the No. 3 seed. Consequently, last night's 101-98 loss to the Indiana Pacers hurt about as much as any in recent Sixers memory.
It was the Sixers' first loss at the Wells Fargo Center in 2018, and the first (true) home game this season where the Sixers never really felt in control. In many ways, Philly was lucky to only lose by three - they turned the ball over 21 times (eight by Joel Embiid alone), gave up 14 offensive rebounds, and allowed the Pacers 20 more shots overall on the game. Some hot first-half shooting from JJ Redick and a dominant late-third-quarter stretch from Embiid kept the Sixers in it, but countless times, the Sixers would cut the lead to three or two, then throw the ball away on the next possession, or allow an Indiana putback. It felt like the more playoff-ready team won last night, and it obviously wasn't us.
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Which, again, not the end of the world. This was arguably the toughest game remaining on the Sixers' schedule, and from here things get pretty damn simple: They're in New York on Thursday, then host the Nets, Hornets and Grizzlies, before heading to Orlando. The Sixers will be overwhelming favorites in all five of those games, and even if they lose one of 'em, they should be in pretty good shape: They're still fairly entrenched in the sixth seed, and with the teams around them all holding tougher upcoming dockets than Philly, 4-1 should be enough to gain a game or two on someone. At the very least, the Sixers are all but a guaranteed playoff team: With the Pistons seven games under .500, there's absolutely no one outside the postseason picture currently pushing for the eighth seed in the East.
But yeah, last night was disappointing. The Pacers are good but they're not true contenders; they've got veterans but they're still pretty young on the whole. If the Sixers were a for-real threat in the East, they'd probably have been able to take care of business - or at the very least, forced Indy to handle business themselves, rather than largely giving the game away to them. The Sixers are now 1-5 in their last six games against East playoff teams, and though previously we'd had the excuse of the first five of those contests being on the road, now we've proven that we're hardly invincible at home, either. The Sixers might not be a team anyone wants to face in the first round, but there aren't a lot of East playoff teams looking like pushovers to us right now either.
Still: 29 and 12 for Embiid, a seventh triple-double for Ben Simmons (tying him with Magic Johnson for second-most in rookie history), 18 for Dario Saric … and hey, Markelle Fultz is shooting like a professional basketball human again! Life goes on, as does The Process. There'll come a day where the Sixers are able to pass such tests, and the fact it sucks this much that it wasn't last night is kinda cool in its own way.