Spirits are high in the City of Brotherly Love at the moment. With a win Saturday night against Minnesota (or a loss by Detroit to the tank-tastic Bulls), the Philadelphia 76ers would clinch their first playoff berth since the 2011-12 season. But as big a step as that achievement would be for the franchise, the team has set its sights slightly higher.
Joel Embiid says after tonight, he has a new goal: "I want to get to 50 wins."
— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) March 23, 2018
Embiid’s goal of 50 wins is by no means far-fetched. Helped significantly by the fact that the 76ers have the NBA’s fourth-easiest remaining strength of schedule over their final 11 games, FiveThirtyEight projects Philadelphia to finish tied with Cleveland for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference at 49-33. At the moment, the 76ers sit in fourth place in the East, percentage points above Indiana. Given the indications that they’re likely to at least remain there at the end of the regular season, we could very well be looking at Philadelphia having home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
First off, home-court advantage would be extremely significant given that the 76ers have lost only one game at the Wells Fargo Center in 2018. There have been as many Olympic Games held this calendar year as there have been times when an opposing team has come into Philadelphia and won a professional basketball game. So you’re crazy if you think Indiana or Washington or other East playoff teams want to come to South Broad Street and play after Allen Iverson has rung the bell at center court and 20,000 fans are chanting “Trust the Process.” An extra home game could very well mean the difference in the series.
Home-court advantage for Philadelphia would also be meaningful in a historic sense. Remember, just two seasons ago, the 76ers finished 10-72. It was the third-worst season winning percentage in NBA history, ahead of only the 1972-73 76ers and 2011-12 Bobcats. If we expand that group to teams who have ever had a winning percentage below 15 (which equates to losing at least 70 games in an 82-game season), we have a sample of seven teams in the modern era. Of those teams, the 76ers could make the fastest return ever to earning home court in the first round of the playoffs.
|Year||Team||Wins||Losses||Win %||Years to Return to Playoffs||Years to Earn Home Court 1st Round|
|1986-87||Los Angeles Clippers||12||70||0.146||5||26|
|2009-10||New Jersey Nets||12||70||0.146||3||3|
* – Projected
Charlotte still hasn’t earned a top-four seed after bottoming out, but for some reason, people were holding up the Hornets in recent years as the right way to go about competing without a prolonged tanking period. The Nets had to completely mortgage their future with one of the worst trades in NBA history for a brief return to semi-relevance. The Mavericks and Nuggets went nearly a decade before being in the top half of the West, and the Clippers went nearly three decades, all while Donald Sterling was being disgustingly racist behind the scenes.
All of which is to say, the Process worked. Yes, the 76ers hit rock bottom over a painful three-year period. But not only are they set up extremely well, they’re poised to make the sharpest turnaround to pseudo-contender status we’ve ever seen. So feel free to silently seethe about the Eagles chants, but when you hear “Trust the Process” echoing through the Wells Fargo Center during Game 1 of the first round, nod your head and acknowledge that the trust was always warranted.