When the Philadelphia 76ers host the Detroit Pistons in the regular-season finale for both on Sunday, it will be a contest between one team with incentive to win, and another with a slight incentive to lose.
The 76ers enter with a chance to improve their playoff seeding in the Eastern Conference.
Philadelphia enters at 50-31, tied with Boston for the third-best record in the East, but Boston holds the tiebreaker for the No. 3 seed owing to a better record within the Atlantic Division.
But while Boston has to play its regular-season finale at Memphis, the second-best team in the Western Conference, Philadelphia gets to host Detroit (23-58), the second-worst team in the East.
Opportunity could definitely be knocking for the 76ers to move up into the No. 3 spot in the East playoffs, which would mean a first-round matchup against slumping Chicago instead of red-hot Toronto.
The 76ers have won four of their past five games, averaging 126.8 points, including a 133-120 home win over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday that led 76ers head coach Doc Rivers to praise his team’s offensive pace.
“I liked how we played,” Rivers said. “Especially at the beginning of the game, I thought the ball was flying around the floor. Overall, it’s got to become a habit for us. You can see us try to do it, but we get away from it at times.
“When we get away from it, we get stagnant with low (shot) clocks. I literally detest low clocks. We have too many of those. But we are getting better.”
Another incentive for Philadelphia will be to make sure Joel Embiid wins the NBA scoring title. After he scored 41 points Saturday against Indiana, he enters the finale leading the league with 30.57 points a game – a virtual lock over Giannis Antetokounmpo.
If Embiid scores at least 20 points for the 23rd consecutive game, the Milwaukee Bucks star would need more than 60 points Sunday to overtake him. Matching his season average would give Embiid an even larger lead, moving him well beyond Antetokounmpo’s reach.
Next up for Philadelphia is a Detroit team that seems to have way more to gain by losing than winning.
The Pistons enter with the third-worst record in the NBA, one game worse than Oklahoma City.
If Detroit ends up finishing with the third-worst record, it will have the same chance of winning the NBA Draft lottery (14%) as the teams worse than the Pistons, which are Houston and Orlando. They would be assured of no worse than one of the top seven picks.
A win in Philadelphia could push the Pistons into the fourth slot in the draft lottery and create further risk of falling as far as eighth in the draft order if their luck goes bad in the lottery.
Oklahoma City will play at the Los Angeles Clippers to close out its season on Sunday.
Detroit has lost two straight to Dallas and Milwaukee after putting together a three-game winning streak.
“We just want to finish with the right spirit and the right togetherness,” Pistons head coach Dwane Casey said. “And not let these last two games distort what we’ve grown into, who we are and what we can be next year. It’s not about winning or losing right now. It’s about our spirit.”
–Field Level Media