Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) scores against Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) in the first half on November 3, 2017 at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Photo by Mark Goldman/UPI | License Photo
The Eastern Conference's team of the present and past will meet the team of the future on Friday night with major playoff implications on the line when the Cleveland Cavaliers travel to the Wells Fargo Center to play the Philadelphia 76ers.
Cleveland scored a huge last-minute 119-115 win over the Washington Wizards on Thursday night to move a half-game up on the 76ers, claiming sole possession of third place in the Eastern Conference.
The two teams learned of the seed's increased importance earlier on Thursday, when it was revealed that Boston Celtics star point guard Kyrie Irving would miss the rest of the season after left knee surgery. With the Celtics currently in the No. 2 spot in the conference but missing two of the league's best players in Irving and the still-injured Gordon Hayward -- not to mention Marcus Smart (hand), who remains out -- a potential second-round matchup sounds much more appealing against Boston than top-seeded Toronto.
For the Cavaliers and 76ers, two of the hottest teams in the league, they know that every game at this point is of utmost importance.
Particularly the 76ers, who are hungry chasing their first playoff berth since 2012 and doing so in the wake of the Philadelphia Eagles winning the Super Bowl and Villanova winning the NCAA tournament.
"The spirit of the city, we saw it with the Eagles, we're feeling it with Villanova," 76ers coach Brett Brown said. "It's something that we want. I've said from day one, it's the only reason that I'm here is I want to try to bring a championship to the city of Philadelphia. This at some point is all of our missions."
The game should not only be an exciting matchup because of the seeding possibilities, but also because of the similarities in style.
Philadelphia, which has won 12 straight despite losing Joel Embiid for the immediate future with a left orbital bone fracture, has scored 115 or more points in eight of its last nine games and ranks ninth in the NBA at 109.1 points per game. Cleveland, which has won four straight and nine of 10, has topped 112 points in seven of its last 10, and ranks fifth in the league in scoring (110.5).
Both have remarkably versatile stars: LeBron James is averaging 27.4 points, 9.1 assists and 8.7 rebounds per game; Philadelphia's Ben Simmons is averaging 16 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists, with five triple-doubles in the last month.
"I think when it comes down to the postseason, we can be pretty good," James told reporters recently. "I mean, I think so. But we don't know. Listen, we lost our starting point guard [George Hill] last game, so we're trying to get everybody acclimated. Our head coach is still out, and it's going to take him a little time to get back as well, so I don't know what we're capable of doing. We haven't played a playoff game together. We got four guys from our championship team: myself, JR [Smith], Tristan [Thompson] and Kevin [Love]. We got some playoff experience, but you don't know. It's a new season, and we'll see what happens."
The 76ers, coming off a 115-108 win at Detroit Wednesday, are looking to tie the season series at two wins apiece.
After the matchup, Philadelphia stays home on Sunday before heading on the road on Tuesday at Atlanta.
Cleveland closes out its season with a home-and-home against the New York Knicks, at New York on Monday and in Cleveland on Wednesday.