Now Comes Hard Part For Sixers

In four of the last five seasons, the Philadelphia 76ers have seen their hopes for an NBA championship evaporate in the Eastern Conference semifinals — to which they advanced once again on Saturday, when they completed a four-game, first-round sweep of the Brooklyn Nets, formerly known as "The Somewhere Southwest of Manhattan Nets," and before that "The Somewhere East of Queens Nets," in the first round.

It was Philadelphia's first sweep of a playoff series since 1991 — when a loaf of bread averaged 71 cents, and a gallon of gas went for $1.10.

But at least for the moment, the Sixers are the NBA's version of the Dallas Cowboys — "America's Team" in more ways than one — because they haven't reached the conference finals since 2000-01, a drought that is only five and a half years shorter than that of the Cowboys when it comes to not making it to the NFC championship game, which they haven't done since 1995.

And as of this writing, the Sixers are on pace to become the latest victims of the NBA's (and other leagues') refusal to re-seed, in that the first-seeded Bucks trail the eighth-seeded Heat three games to one. If the Heat pull off the upset, by all right Miami should have to travel to Boston to take on the Celtics, who can close out their series against Atlanta with a win Tuesday night, with the Sixers getting to host the Knicks/Cleveland winner (the Knicks are up 3-1 and are at Cleveland Wednesday night) in the conference semis.

Having led the NBA in scoring both this season (33.1 points per game) and last season (30.6 points per game), Sixers center Joel Embiid was runner-up behind Denver's Nikola Jokic for the NBA's MVP 2021-22 (and also in 2020-21). The 2022-23 MVP winner will be announced on May 11 — so how Embiid does between now and then will go a long way toward deciding who wins it.

So we're talkin' multiple humps to get over.

Embiid winning the NBA MVP will be one such hump, but the team reaching the Eastern Conference finals would be a much bigger breakthrough, especially because the 54-28 Sixers finished ahead of every team in the West, which the Nuggets topped at 53-29 — and as such, Philadelphia would be guaranteed home-court advantage in The Finals, should they get there.

In Game 3 of the Nets series, Philadelphia guard James Harden was ejected after getting whistled for a "flagrant foul 2" late in the third quarter of a game marred by several chippy incidents, two of them resulting in the ejection of Brooklyn center Nic Claxton due to two technical fouls.

(It must have happened because the Nets and the Sixers are in the same division — yeah, whatever).

Maybe this is a sign that the Sixers are ready to overcome what could be two formidable obstacles — the Celtics and the Bucks, against whom they went a combined 3-5 during the regular season, including 1-3 on the road.

Neither the Phillies nor the Eagles missed a parade by much.

Can the Sixers not miss one?

And 22 years is a long time not to make it to even the conference championship series, or game, of the postseason.

But if the Bucks do lose to the Heat and the Sixers then lose to the Celtics, re-seeding is very likely to be on the agenda when the owners meet in July.

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