The Philadelphia 76ers are on track to clinch their first top place finish in the Eastern Conference in 20 years.
A striking dichotomy can be seen between the 2020-21 76ers led by Head Coach Doc Rivers and the 2000-01 76ers coached by Larry Brown. The contemporary version is led by a 7-foot do-it-all big man from Cameroon, while the latter was carried by 6-foot MVP Allen Iverson. While a whole foot and nearly a hundred pounds separate Philadelphia’s greatest basketball players this century, the two are comparable. Iverson became Philadelphia’s first MVP in decades, and Embiid is attempting to do the same while also having his hat in another ring, the Defensive Player of the Year.
Defense is the name of the game for this 76ers squad, who has remained near the top of the league in defensive rating despite countless injuries and missed games. Other than DPOY candidate Joel Embiid, Philly boasts two more presumptive nominees: All-Star Ben Simmons and second-year guard Matisse Thybulle. Simmons and Thybulle’s impact on the team, despite their collective inability to shoot three-pointers, cannot be overstated.
So, what does the one seed mean for the Sixers?
Perhaps most importantly, it means avoiding the three-headed monster Brooklyn Nets, and Giannis led Milwaukee Bucks until the Eastern Conference Finals. It also means that Philadelphia has to play Milwaukee or Brooklyn, not both. Boston has long been Philadelphia’s kryptonite, and with the way the standings are shaking out, it appears the 76ers won’t be seeing Boston on their half of the bracket.
But it means more than that.
The one seed means that the Sixers’ gamble took in the late 2000s and the majority of the last decade has paid off. Drafting a kid from Cameroon who barely played at Kansas and sat out his first two seasons was successful. Pairing him with another 7-foot player who dominates the paint works. When the league zigged towards three-point shooting, the 76ers zagged. And it paid off.
This is not the end of the process, but it is the end of the years of instability, lackluster performances and letdowns. For once, the Sixers had great potential and met it.
Any player or fan would tell you this is the beginning. The actual end comes when Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle and the rest of the 76ers hold the Larry O’Brien trophy while partying on Broad Street. Nobody knows if they will get there, but this certainly signifies the best chance for them since Allen Iverson.