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What Kyrie Irving’s injury could mean for the Sixers

Yes, you read that right, the Sixers

5:32 PMThe Kyrie Irving injury has suddenly opened a door for the Philadelphia 76ers to potentially have an easier road to the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference finals. Now it’s up to rookie sensation Ben Simmons to lead the Sixers there sans Joel Embiid.

The Boston Celtics announced Thursday that Irving will have season-ending surgery on Saturday to remove two screws implanted in his left patella to aid the knee fracture he suffered in the 2015 NBA Finals. Keep in mind that the Celtics also lost 2017 NBA All-Star forward Gordon Hayward to a broken ankle in the season opener. While the Celtics have had success without Irving and Hayward, their hopes of winning an 18th championship banner took a major hit.

The Celtics are expected to have the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The up-and-coming Sixers hold their destiny in securing the East’s third playoff seed. The No. 3 seed, should it advance to the second round of the playoffs, would play either the injury-plagued Celtics or the seventh seed, thus avoiding the top-seeded Toronto Raptors until the East finals. The Raptors, assuming they advance, would meet the winner of the No. 4-No. 5 matchup in the second round. The Cleveland Cavaliers would likely finish fourth if the Sixers earn the third seed.

The Sixers and the Cavaliers entered Thursday with an identical record of 48-30. If Philadelphia accomplishes the mighty task of defeating LeBron James and the visiting Cavaliers on Friday night, it could land the third seed by winning out. The Sixers’ final three games include a road game against lowly Atlanta, a home game against the lowly Dallas Mavericks, and the regular-season finale at home against NBA All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. While Cleveland and Milwaukee are tough victories, the hot Sixers have won 12 straight games and will play both contests in front of a wild home crowd.

Unfortunately for the Sixers, they will be without NBA All-Star center Embiid during the final four regular-season games due to a facial fracture. ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reported that Embiid could return at the start of the playoffs. The Sixers, however, do have No. 1 draft pick Markelle Fultz coming off the bench to add a scoring spark, and forward Dario Saric, who has missed the past three games with a bacterial infection in his elbow, could return for Friday’s game.

Simmons has to be the Sixers star to lead the franchise to that coveted third seed. The former Louisiana State star is averaging nearly a triple-double with 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.1 assists. Former Sixers star Julius “Dr. J” Erving described Simmons as “maybe a once-in-a-lifetime type.” If Simmons can lead the Sixers to a top 3 seed, that could solidify the NBA Rookie of the Year award over Utah Jazz sensation Donovan Mitchell.

There are no back-to-backs in the postseason for Embiid, so he would get the needed rest to play at a high level every postseason game after his return.

The Sixers’ game on Friday against the Cavaliers will be the franchise’s biggest since they were last in the playoffs in 2012. It’s also the type of challenge that James loves. The Raptors will be intently watching too. Oddly, the trickle-down effect of the Irving injury has paved a possible smooth path to the East finals for Simmons and the Sixers. Oh, to be in Philly on Friday.

Philly sports teams are having their best year yet; Philly music is not

The City of Brotherly Love is the newest title town, but native rapper Meek Mill isn’t having the same luck

10:50 AMIf you’re a Philly sports fan, this quote from legendary black philosopher Young Jeezy’s 2005 sermon “Get Ya Mind Right,” Minus the bulls—, life’s great, may be extremely relevant to your life right now.

After years of coming up short and outright irrelevant in some sports, Philadelphia is America’s newest title town. The Eagles are the reigning Super Bowl champs and widely regarded as the most socially conscious team in a league that would rather its players be anything but. They also appear to be getting stronger with a slew of offseason moves. The Sixers are riding a 10-game winning streak, Ben Simmons is dating rhythm and blues starlet Tinashe, and, despite a recent injury, All-Star Joel Embiid should be back in time for the playoffs (though that hasn’t stopped him from tweeting Rihanna once again). The Philadelphia Flyers are still in playoff contention as the NHL season winds down. The Phillies are still in the hunt — with only 159 regular season games remaining. And Monday night the Villanova Wildcats captured their second national championship in the past three seasons with a 79-62 victory over Michigan.

On the flip side, all is not well in Philly’s pop culture world. The cold war between Judge Genece Brinkley and Meek Mill wages on. Brinkley recently denied the request to recuse herself from Mill’s case after repeated attempts by his legal team. She then doubled down by killing the request to reconsider his sentencing, calling Mill’s two- to four-year term “absolutely necessary.” Meek, of course, has become a rallying point for the city’s sports teams — especially the Eagles, who rallied (literally and figuratively) around his “Dreams and Nightmares” intro all the way to the city’s first Super Bowl championship, and the Sixers, with Embiid and Sixers minority owner Michael Rubin visiting the rapper in prison.

Such is just the latest chapter in a saga that has transcended hip-hop, becoming a lightning rod around the ongoing criminal justice debate. Mill’s next post-conviction hearing is set for April 16.