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Warriors vs Lakers Live: The arc of an NBA season is a weird thing when you are on this side of the wave. Last year, the Sixers were somewhere else, mired in the same sort of four-team rat race that is currently unfolding at the bottom of the playoff field.
There are two categories of contenders in professional basketball, and the space between them is wider than that which exists in any other of the major sports. There are the real ones, and then there is everybody else. (If you want to get technical, there is probably a third category, and that is the Warriors. But May is too pretty a month for nihilism, so let’s just pretend there are two categories and maintain some level of drama.)
Last year, the Sixers were on the other side of the divide. No doubt, they were more interesting than teams like the Pistons and Heat and Magic, teams that find themselves in the very same place that the Process was initiated to avoid, teams whose primary purpose in life is to provide the real contenders with opponents to face.
I did not include the Nets in this group because I find the Nets interesting, and the rest of the NBA should, too. But there is a big difference between “interesting” and “contending.” Which, now that I mention it, is kind of the point. Last year at this time, the Sixers were the same sort of interesting team, in that they entered the first round of the playoffs with something to prove. They just were not contenders.
Through 78 games, they could take nothing for granted.One year later, here we are. With more than a week remaining in the regular season, the Sixers decided to give Joel Embiid a break. Jimmy Butler, too. The result — a blowout loss to the Mavericks — might not have been pretty, but it was also pretty irrelevant. After Wednesday night’s loss in Atlanta they still need just two wins in their last four games to lock down the No. 3 seed in the East, and that was assuming the Celtics would win out the rest of their schedule (which, if you’d been paying attention to the Celtics, was an unlikely notion).
All of which is to say, the Sixers can now definitively count themselves among the teams that have very little use for the end of the regular season. At least, that’s true from an ends-based perspective. They have nothing to prove that we do not already know. All that matters at this point is how they measure up with the Bucks or the Raptors or the Celtics over a seven-game series. You can include the Pacers, if you’d like, if it heightens the drama.