A playoff berth for the Philadelphia 76ers seemed improbable after they sputtered to a 3-13 start, but the team cleaned up its act and has clinched a postseason appearance for the third time in four seasons. At 40-37, Philadelphia has a strong hold on the East's sixth seed, but the New York Knicks (38-38) lag just 1.5 games behind. Additionally, the Sixers have a slim chance of catching the Atlanta Hawks (44-33) for the fifth seed. Here's a more specific breakdown of the various scenarios:
If the Sixers go 5-0 to close out the season, they will guarantee the Knicks can't catch them for the sixth seed. Additionally, closing 5-0 gives Philly a faint shot of overtaking the Hawks for the fifth spot; Atlanta would have to lose out or go 1-4 in this scenario.
Should the Sixers finish 4-1, the Knicks would need to win their remaining games, beginning tonight against the Toronto Raptors, in order to seize the sixth seed from Philadelphia. The head-to-head matchup between these teams tomorrow night is pivotal: if the Sixers win, they guarantee a better seed than the Knicks. But if they lose, the door remains open for New York to overtake them.
In the event Philly finishes 3-2, the Knicks would need to do no worse than 5-1 the rest of the way and beat it tomorrow night to leapfrog it in the standings.
The tiebreaker after head-to-head record is division record. Philadelphia has three games remaining against Atlantic Division clubs; New York has four. If the Sixers win just one divisional game the rest of the way, the Knicks would have to win all four of their divisional games to own the tiebreaker. And, as always, the Knicks must beat the Sixers on Wednesday to keep their hopes of overtaking them alive.
Projecting the Sixers' likely playoff position if they close the season 2-3 or worse gets tricky because it involves delving deeper into the specific tiebreak scenarios. In a nutshell, the Sixers guarantee themselves a seed no worse than sixth with a win against the Knicks. Even if they lose that game, they still stand a great chance of holding the sixth seed. It would take an unlikely meltdown for Doug Collins' crew to slip to seventh.