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With a win, the 76ers take a significant step towards Ost’s top seed

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10:21 ET

Tim BontempsESPN

Before the Philadelphia 76ers competed with the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night to see who would land at the Eastern Conference at the end of the night, Sixers coach Doc Rivers was asked if he had made it a priority for him to win the top Get Seed in the East Team this season.

“We really didn’t talk about it much,” said Rivers. “We’re only talking about winning games.”

But then the truth came out.

“It would of course be nice to have,” he said.

The importance of Philadelphia’s 123-117 win over the Shorthanded Nets on Wednesday night is beyond dispute – one that put the Sixers firmly in the driver’s seat to take that top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Philadelphia made it far harder than it took to get that win, bleeding nearly a 22-point lead eight minutes to go before beating Brooklyn’s reserves, but ultimately the Sixers took the win – one that moved them Play before the nets with 17 games remaining for both teams. It has also won the season streak for Philadelphia that turns that one-game advantage into a two-game advantage.

“We made a number of mistakes,” said Joel Embiid, who made his last dominant performance of the season with 39 points, 13 rebounds and two blocked shots in 33 minutes. “We turned the ball defensively. We didn’t have the focus that we had all night. That can’t happen when we’re a team that wants to fight for a championship.”

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Aside from the frustration with the ending, the Sixers got what they wanted. And along with the Nets dealing with a number of injuries and also facing a far more difficult remaining schedule (fourth worst) than the Sixers (seventh worst), the way is now officially free for Philadelphia to control its fate in the east.

“”[It’s] very important, “said Ben Simmons.” We want that one seed. “

The main reason is the far easier way to escape the East – something the Sixers are hoping for for the first time in 20 years. With three elite teams in the east – Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and the Milwaukee Bucks – holding this top seed means you only have to beat one of those teams to make it to the NBA Finals.

And if you face them, it also means that you have a home advantage in the final of the Eastern Conference. Conversely, finishing second or third likely means that two of the top teams will have to be defeated to make it to the final. One or both series come with no home advantage.

David Dow / NBAE via Getty Images

For this Philadelphia team, however, maintaining that home advantage is of added importance: The Sixers play better at home than any other team in the league.

Since Embiid and Simmons played together in the 2017/18 season, the Sixers have won between 111 and 28 in the games at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia – a 79.9% gain.

The next best team in the league during this period, the Denver Nuggets, have won just over 75% of their home games – and have the advantage of playing those games at a higher altitude.

“When you play in Philly [the fans are] I’ll push you, “said Embiid.” They will attack you. They will exploit you. You have to come out and give 110 percent and just play really hard and give them everything you have. I feel like since I’ve been here in Philly, how dominant we were at home has played a big part. “

And while Philadelphia’s insatiable fans undoubtedly played a role in that success – and clearly fueled Embiid in particular, who always fed her energy – the Sixers were still a leading 23-5 at home in the Eastern Conference this season even if these fans are largely kept away from the building.

“I think we are comfortable at home,” said Rivers. “I think this year is surprising without the fans. I can understand with the fans, but without the fans we had a lot of success.”

That success continued Wednesday night – though it’s tough to lose much weight in a game in which Kevin Durant, James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Blake Griffin wore street clothes for Brooklyn. Kyrie Irving (37 points on 13v21 plus 9 assists) was brilliant, and DeAndre Jordan played as well as was to be expected against Embiid.

Even so, Embiid was still dominant and continued his year-long parade all the way to the foul line by walking from the charity strip 10 against 11. It was a reminder of how dominant Embiid was against everyone when he was on the pitch this season, and how perfectly suited he is to attacking Brooklyn’s soft underbelly defensively.

But Embiid, good as he was, isn’t the only thing driving Philadelphia’s success – and not the only person driving it Wednesday night. Tobias Harris had another impressive and highly efficient game (26 points in 11v17 shooting), both of which were constants of his slightly best NBA season. Simmons remains one of the league’s elite defenders, and Seth Curry and Danny Green have given everything Philadelphia hoped to swap Josh Richardson and Al Horford for them in the off-season.

As a result, that five-man squad is now 20-4 after winning on Wednesday this season, outperforming their opponents by 14 points per 100 possessions in nearly 500 minutes on the pitch this season. Meanwhile, George Hill – the team’s main trading close – has still not played due to a broken hand before the deal was closed.

All of this gives Philadelphia confidence that this year may be the one to finally break this team and return to the league’s championship round. It was a significant step towards that goal on Wednesday night.

“We just have to do our business night after night,” said Harris. “We have to be prepared for the challenge every night.”

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Melinda Martin