Playoffs? That was a thought not even in the back of our minds in the beginning of January after the Sixers lost 7 straight. It was clear that much of the talk surrounded the possibility of when, not if, Andre Miller would be traded, essentially conceding the season. What to do with the abundance of cap space Stefanski will have to play with and who the Sixers could get in the upcoming NBA draft.
How have things changed. Sitting squarely in the 8th playoff spot, the trade deadline come and gone and Andre Miller still leading the Philly attack, it’s time to seriously consider the Sixers playoff picture.
Eastern Conference Landscape
Good for the Sixers – New Jersey trading Jason Kidd. With all trades there is an adjustment period getting used to the new line-up, I think in this case that effect will be bigger than normal. Even better, Devin Harris will likely be out at least another 2 weeks due to his ankle injury. That leaves an inexperienced Marcus Williams leading the Nets who are only a half game up on the Sixers. Even when Harris returns he won’t be nearly the same caliber facilitator Jason Kidd was for players like Carter and Jefferson. They will sorely miss Kidd’s passing skills and knack for defensive rebounding and starting the break. That bodes very well for the Philly down the stretch.
Not so good for the Sixers – Mike Bibby traded to Atlanta. This was a great deal for Atlanta and basically the missing piece to get them over the hump. What works well for Philly is that the Hawks play their first 5 games after the All-Star Break on a tough Western road trip on which they are already 0-2. One game behind the Sixers and having to play Golden State, Utah and San Antonio on the road in their next three, the Sixers have a chance to put some distance between them and Atlanta. Philly has one very winnable game versus Miami and two games against Orlando in the next week. The Sixers played Orlando tough at home last time, only losing by two, so they will need to steal one from a good team to take the next step. What to watch for: a home-and-home with Atlanta on April 4th and 5th.
Although the Sixers are only 2 games out of the 6th spot currently held by Washington, realistically I see us finishing 7th in the East. Of course I wouldn’t be upset if the team overachieves and surprises me.
Down the Stretch
Here’s what the Sixers must do to lock up at least the 8th playoff spot:
- Beat up on the bad teams. The first step of becoming a good, more consistent team is winning games versus opponents you are better than. Perfect example of what they can’t do – lose by 16 to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Come on guys, you’re better than that. Perfect example of what they are supposed to do – pound the crap out of the New York Knicks by 40 points. Now that’s what I am talking about, boys!
- Defend the home court. Simply put 15-14 at home thus far sucks and is a big reason the Wachovia Center is running at only 64% capacity. Playing .500 ball at home in these last 27 games won’t be good enough.
- Play to their strengths. When the Sixers play well they do 3 things in particular. Offensive rebounding, currently the 3rd best in the NBA; Sammy and Reggie do a hell of a job helping the Sixers win the battle of second chance points. Defensive intensity, mainly getting in the passing lanes and racking up steals (5th in the NBA). Those steals lead to the most important aspect and the developing identity of this Philadelphia team – fast break points. For the Sixers this is where they usually win games. They need these easy buckets to offset their inconsistent half-court offense and league worst 3-point shooting (31%).
I may be in the minority among Philly fans, but I am excited about the prospect of the team making the playoffs. Which according to John Hollinger’s playoff odds, gives the Sixers an 82.6% chance of being in the postseason. It’s important for the young guys to build some character and gain some valuable postseason experience (without AI carrying them). Competing in the playoffs accomplishes that. I am also hoping the inevitable loss to either Detroit or Boston in the first round will leave a bad taste in their mouths that intensifies their desire to get better and creates that winning mentality.
So how do you feel – are you happy the Sixers are competing to make the playoffs or would you rather they be in line for Michael Beasley and a top draft pick?