Philadelphia 76ers have opportunity to forge significant lead in playoff seeding

The Philadelphia 76ers have an opportunity to strengthen their grasp on the No. 3 seed in the coming days.

Following a win over Milwaukee on Sunday, the Philadelphia 76ers officially clinched their second consecutive playoff berth. With the Pacers and Celtics losing soon thereafter, the Sixers now hold a 1.5-game lead over Indiana and a 2.5-game lead over Boston in the standings.

Homecourt advantage, per usual, will play a massive role in determining the postseason landscape. Milwaukee and Toronto are locked into the top-two spots, but the Sixers have a chance to ensure key matchups take place in the Wells Fargo Center.

Their upcoming back-to-back will go a long way in establishing the Sixers’ position in the standings. With Charlotte on Tuesday and Boston on Wednesday, two wins could give the Sixers a four-game lead over the dreaded Celtics. With the Pacers finally showing signs of weakness in Victor Oladipo‘s absence, the third seed would be Philadelphia’s to lose.

Winning two games in two nights is never easy, especially when the second game features an arguably superior opponent. The Sixers will also be without Joel Embiid for Tuesday’s showdown with Charlotte, another team jockeying for playoff positioning.

There could, however, be some beneficial aspects to Embiid’s scheduled rest. If the Sixers win without him Tuesday, it leaves them with a fresh Embiid on Wednesday. Against the Celtics, they’ll need Embiid producing at his peak level.

When healthy, the Sixers have more than enough talent to compete with Boston. On paper, to a certain extent, they exceed Boston. The issues arise when looking at individual matchups. No team defends Embiid and Ben Simmons better than the Celtics.

Some point to the Boston demons, but seldom offer a name for those lingering nightmares. It’s Al Horford. He gives the Sixers more trouble than anyone else — banging with Embiid underneath, stretching the floor on offense, and providing unique versatility the Sixers struggle to contain.

The Celtics have been a mess all season, following up impressive wins with confounding losses. It’s been up and down, yet the one constant has been their ability to beat Philadelphia no matter the circumstances.

At some point, one would expect the Sixers to break through. Embiid is due for a big game against Horford, who seems to be on a moderate decline. The Celtics’ offense will sputter at some point, and the Sixers have enough firepower to take advantage.

If the Sixers can win both Tuesday and Wednesday, it all be ensures homecourt advantage. It also ensures the Sixers won’t face Boston in round one, avoiding them until the conference finals in a hypothetical championship run.

Given the previous two seasons, it’s tough to peg the Sixers as favorites in a seven-game series with Boston. That’s especially true with a healthy Kyrie Irving. Even so, getting games one and two at home is a luxury the Sixers lacked in last season’s five-game decimation.

The Sixers also have a closer in Jimmy Butler. And a dynamic three-level scorer in Tobias Harris. Not to mention James Ennis, Mike Scott and Jonah Bolden, versatile defenders who can contribute to some degree on offense. The roster has been considerably upgraded.

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Getting two wins over the next two days is supremely important for the Sixers.