Heading into the 2019-20 NBA season, Brett Brown, then the coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, declared that his team would be striving to secure the top seed in the Eastern Conference. "I want to get the No. 1 seed," Brown said. "I believe we have a championship-caliber team as it sits."
Coming off of a heartbreaking loss to the Raptors in Game 7 of the conference semifinals in Toronto, it made sense that the Sixers would be eager to secure the top seed, and in turn homecourt advantage through the conference finals. After all, if that Game 7 was played in Philadelphia, perhaps the outcome would have been different. Unfortunately for Philadelphia though, they didn't come close to securing the top seed last season. Instead, they finished sixth in the standings and were eventually swept in the first round of the postseason by the Boston Celtics, albeit without Ben Simmons.
This season though, things are different. The Sixers replaced Brown with Doc Rivers over the offseason, and now following their victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night, they sit alone at the top of the East with just over a month remaining until the start of postseason play. While some teams are nonchalant about where they finish in the standings, at least publicly, that isn't the case with the Sixers. After all, that Game 7 loss in Toronto still looms large in the minds of several of the team's key contributors. After their victory over the Nets, Sixers stars Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris all agreed on the importance of securing the top seed.
"[It's] very important," Simmons said. "We want that No.1 seed... I think we're more than capable of it."
The Sixers are an improved road team. They're 17-12 away from the Wells Fargo Center this season, compared to their 12-26 road record from last season. Like most teams though, they're still better at home. The Sixers, specifically, have been downright dominant in Philadelphia. After finishing 31-4 at home last season, the Sixers are 21-5 in South Philly on the current campaign. Only the Utah Jazz have lost fewer games at home this season. With fans in the building, the Sixers enjoy arguably the best homecourt advantage in the entire league. Embiid even went as far as to say that he feels "unbeatable" at home.
"For me, the one seed is very important," 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."
If the Sixers were able to secure the top seed in the East, they could hypothetically advance all the way to the NBA Finals without winning a single game on the road in the postseason. That's obviously an unlikely scenario, but for Philadelphia the more games they can play at home in the playoffs the better since the rims are more friendly for them in Philly. At home, the Sixers have the eighth-highest effective field goal percentage in the league (55.6) and the seventh-highest true shooting percentage (59.1). On the road, those percentages plummet. In road games, the Sixers are 22nd league-wide in effective field goal percentage (52.5) and 18th in true shooting percentage (56.8). Those splits alone are enough to show the Sixers that landing the top seed is in their best interest. Now they just have to go out and execute over the final few weeks of the regular season.
This is the second straight season that the Sixers have gone public with their desire to secure the top seed in the East. The difference is that this season they actually have a real shot of getting it.