With the 2021 NBA Playoffs scheduled to officially begin one month from Thursday – and the brand-new Play-In Tournament slated to run May 18-21 – the Philadelphia 76ers are exactly where they want to be.
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Coach Doc Rivers’ team is the new number one group atop both the ESPN and NBA.com Power Rankings, as well as the FanSided Hoops Habit’s rankings. The Sixers come in second – only behind the Los Angeles Clippers – in Bleacher Report’s Monday list.
Philly’s jump to at or near the top was a significant rise in all four media outlets’ rankings, as they were fourth on last week’s NBA.com’s list, and sixth for each of the other three organizations. The Sixers – now 39-17 and 1.5 games ahead of the Brooklyn Nets for the top seed in the Eastern Conference – were last number one on ESPN’s rankings on March 22, but haven’t been the top team according to NBA.com all season long.
The highest that NBA.com has placed Philly on their rankings was second, and that came on March 15.
Embiid’s MVP Play, Wins Over Playoff Teams Fuel Rise
In the Sixers’ current four-game winning streak, the biggest advantage they’ve had over other teams has been the unstoppable dominance of big man Joel Embiid. One of the MVP frontrunners, Embiid has averaged a wild 34.5 points per game over the recent streak and is shooting a spectacular 13-for-24 from mid-range – good for 54.2% – according to NBA.com’s Advanced Stats.
Embiid’s biggest standout effort may have been in the team’s crucial victory over the Nets last Wednesday, when he went off for 39 points and secured 13 rebounds. Of course, the Nets were two-thirds minus their “Big 3” of Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving, but a win is a win.
Ironically, and maybe somebody like Clippers’ star Paul George would say unfairly, despite the Sixers’ current four-game winning streak against the likes of the Nets and Clippers, they have had the fortune of not facing these good teams at full strength. In the aforementioned Philadelphia win over the Nets, Brooklyn was missing Durant, Harden, Blake Griffin, and the now-retired LaMarcus Aldridge.
Then against PG-13’s Clippers, L.A. was missing Kawhi Leonard, who is one of the best players in the entire NBA. Those situations didn’t seem to bother the analysts and writers responsible for making this week’s rankings though.
NBA.com’s Advanced Stats also shows this Sixers’ success over good teams as nothing new, as they currently hold the third-best mark in the league against the top-15 teams that are over .500. Additionally, Embiid and company is 9-1 against those top-15 teams when they’ve had their full starting lineup.
More big matchups loom this week for the Sixers, as their next four games include tilts against the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns, and then back-to-back road games against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Embiid Gets NBA Cares Community Assist Award
Embiid’s MVP candidacy has been discussed and analyzed at length this season, but it’s still too early to determine if he will in fact take home the hardware. The NBA did announce Monday that the 27-year-old has already earned a different award.
Embiid has received the NBA Cares Community Assist Award for the month of March. The award was given to him in “recognition of his dedicated efforts to address housing insecurity in Greater Philadelphia.”
According to the release, $10,000 will be given to Covenant House Pennsylvania, an organization that serves homeless youth.