76ers Prove They’re No Fluke Against Detroit

Andre Iguodala dunk against the Detroit PistonsAll I can say is BIG WIN for our Philadelphia 76ers.  Not only was it against the 2nd seed Detroit Pistons, but it comes after a very disappointing performance at home Monday night against the Celtics.  That is the sign of a team that is turning the corner.  A loss like Monday’s can easily deflate a bad team, but the Sixers proved they are no longer in that bottom category in the league. 

This win, along with others recently, tells me a lot of very promising things about the team:

  1. They are ready to compete with the better teams in the NBA.  Beating Phoenix and Detroit on the road and Dallas at home is clear proof of that.
  2. For this young team a win on the road against the Pistons is a huge confidence boost going into a potential first round match-up with Detroit.  Sure they may get beat up in a 7-game series, but it won’t be from lack of effort.
  3. Consistency – The Sixers are no longer losing games to bad teams or losing for long stretches, but they are putting together healthy winning streaks of their own.
  4. Winning characteristics – The ability to steal one on the road and win ugly against a good team is a classic trait of a solid basketball team.
  5. We have the right coach – This point alone deserves its own post.  Maurice Cheeks has done a few things that are worth reiterating here. 
    1. He has proven he can get the most out of marginal talent.
    2. He has proven he can develop young players.
    3. He has proven he can put this team in a position to win every night.
    4. Most importantly, he has proven he can motivate his players to compete every night.  They haven’t had many let downs against weak teams the last two months, and they have gotten up when they have beaten good teams.

Tonight’s game was another win most people marked down in the loss column.  These surprising wins are a welcomed trend for a city of fans that has been searching, dying for any reason to support this team.  Now we have it.

Boston Celtics Provide a Reality Check for the 76ers

Kevin Garnett vs. the Philadelphia 76ersSitting only 3 rows behind the Celtic bench, I was extremely pumped for this game.  I was hoping the Sixers could continue their winning ways and take another step toward becoming the team we all want them to be.  Unfortunately it would not be.  From the opening tap you couldn’t tell which team was scratching and fighting for a playoff spot and who was sitting comfortably at the top of the Eastern Conference.  The Boston Celtics came in and set the tone immediately with a 15-0 run, and it is clear who’s the superior team.

Although the Sixers finally settled down (a little bit), they were vastly outmatched and suffered a 100-86 loss.  This marked the first loss in four games for the Sixers, who also snapped their 9-game home winning streak.

Observations from the game

  • Attendance was great – 20,438.  BUT there was an unhealthy number of green jerseys all throughout the crowd.  At times (too many times) the Celtics supporters were much louder than the hometown fans.
  • Willie Green strained his back in the first quarter and did not return.  Andre Miller seemed to have hurt his back as well but continued to play.  Injuries would put a huge damper on the recent success for the Sixers.
  • Boston’s defense exposed the Sixers half-court offense.  We couldn’t get a clean shot on the pin-downs all night, which is the staple of the Sixers offense.  Closer look – the players’ screening was absolutely horrendous.  They were barely getting a shoulder on the Celtic defenders.
  • Thaddeus Young most certainly needs offensive plays run for him.  I would say “more” plays but right now he is at ZERO.  1. This will help develop his game now and for the future. 2. It would add another threat in the half-court.  He can score in the post on smaller guys and take slower big guys off the dribble with relative ease.  Mo, get it done!
  • In previous games we faced weak interior defense allowing Sammy to get off in the post.  Not last night, KG and Kendrick Perkins locked down “Slammin’ Big Mouth Sammy D,” blocking his turnaround jumpers all night.  Stat line after whining about playing time: 32 minutes, 1-9 fgs, 10 boards, 1 ast, 1 stl, 2 blks, 1 to, 5 fouls and a big TWO points.
  • Down 16 with 5:10 left in the game the stands quickly started to empty of the hometown fans leaving me to sit among Garnett, Allen and Pierce jerseys for the remainder of the game.
  • Honestly I don’t think one Sixers player really had a good game.  Thad scored 11 points on 5-10 from the floor and 4 boards.  But that’s about it.
  • The old school Philadelphia 76ers uniforms need to come back.
  • The biggest takeaway from the game: Sam Cassell should never, let me repeat NEVER, be looked at from that short a distance!

The team looked and played uneasy, jittery, and flat-out nervous to start both halves.  I don’t know if that was because of the big, bad Celtics in the house.  Maybe it was just dead legs after playing in Atlanta the previous afternoon. 

I do have another theory to keep an eye out for down the stretch, especially against the tougher opponents.  How do the Sixers respond now that there is a higher expectation for them to win and, at the least, compete with the top teams like Boston and Detroit?  I am a firm believer in the saying “pressure busts pipes” particularly as it pertains to basketball. 

That thought is EXACTLY why I have been against the tanking idea and pushed for the Sixers to win as much as possible and get in the playoffs.  This team must develop a winning attitude, an expectation for winning and an understanding of how to handle the pressures of being a winning team.

Over the past month and a half the 76ers have showed a real aptitude for winning and firmly locked themselves in as a playoff team.  That success has, if only a little bit, gained more support from the Philadelphia fans, as evidenced by the growing attendance numbers.  Without a proven superstar like Allen Iverson to lean on, who will step up as the leader when the team is now expected to win on a nightly basis? This is a much different beast and mindset going into games.  When everyone thinks you’re going to lose, a player has very little pressure and can play in a certain comfort zone.  Right now I don’t know who that player will be on this team. 

I am really hoping both of the Andre’s come to the forefront on that point. 

Things definitely don’t get easier with Detroit and Chicago (must win) on the road, then San Antonio (will be at the game again) and Denver back home.  Time for the Sixers to prove they can beat some good teams now.

Philadelphia 76ers are ROLLING!

Philadelphia 76ersIt’s clear – the Sixers ARE a playoff team and proving every game they want and deserve to be there in the Eastern conference.  Philly started 2008 with a dismal 4-11 record in January, and “playoffs” was like a 4-letter word back then.  What has our home team been doing lately?  Since that rocky start the Sixers are 12-5 as of February 1.  Including…

  • 4 in a row
  • 8 in a row at home (9 in a row when you include the last home game in January)
  • Scoring 103.4 PPG while only…
  • Allowing only 94.6 PPG with a…
  • +8.7 average point differential

If that’s not worth supporting this team I don’t know what is.  On February 21st I said the Sixers needed to do three main things to secure at least the 8th playoff spot in the East:

  1. Beat up on the bad teams
  2. Defend the home court
  3. Play to their strengths 

The Sixers have done just that.  They’ve beaten the bums on their schedule: the Heat, Clippers, Supersonics and Bucks by an average of 21.8 PPG.  Pound the scrubs – check.  They are playing their best basketball at home now, most notably with a good win against the 3rd seed Orlando Magic Feb. 27th.  They have their biggest home test tomorrow night against Boston, and I will be up-close-and-personal for that game behind the Celtic bench.  Win at home – check.  Finally rebound the ball, play tough defense and get out on the break.  In the last 8 games the Sixers are averaging 41 boards a night (4.8 more than their opponents), forcing 16 turnovers and getting 9.4 steals per game.  What I like is that 58% of their opponent’s turnovers come from steals, meaning it’s the Sixers pressure causing mistakes not unforced errors – that is important to note.  Play to strengths – check.

The team is clicking and peaking at the right time and it’s really fun to watch.  No wonder the Sixers are now only a half game behind Washington for the desperately needed 6th playoff spot.  Let’s get it done boys.

P.S.

A message to Samuel Dalembert (who has played great of late)SHUT UP!

Philly Ramblings

         

While I’ve been engulfed in my MLB Preview, a whole bunch of things have happened in Philly sports that I felt I should comment on, but didn’t have the time to write a whole post on. So I’m gonna do what I can here in bullet point form. Please hold back your excitement.

– The Asante Samuel signing was very interesting to me. It was a typical Eagles move to draft/sign someone at a position that they did not need help. However, I’m certainly happy this guy is an Eagle. He is an upgrade over Lito Sheppard in that he will stay on the field. He can hit better than Lito and provides the same, if not slightly better, play-making ability. However, considering the money they put forth, I really hope they can get a good deal for Lito and turn it into another impact player.

– I personally don’t think Randy Moss had any intention of ever signing with us. I think he was just using us to beef up the Pats offer. However, the best thing to come from this is that it shows that Eagles do actually know they need a big-play receiver. The word is that they want Larry Fitzgerald, but the Cardinals are inclined to keep him despite his absurd salary. Personally? I’d give them whatever they want. Lito, 1st round pick and a 3rd round pick? STEEP price, but if we get Fitz, we go to the Super Bowl. (Note: Gcobb.com is reporting today that the Eagles will make strong pushes for both Roy Williams and Chad Johnson)

– So the Eagles have added Samuel and Chris Clemons (who appears to be a real good pass rusher) to the defense. They have Lito to trade for a piece of the puzzle, and each of their draft picks. They need to package their remaining assets into 1 or 2 impact players for next year and it will be an extremely successful offseason.

– Cole Hamels is acting (and talking) like a damn child. The only thing that is clear in this situation is that he (and Prince Fielder and Nick Markakis and Jonathan Paplebon) do not understand how the MLB salary process works. This is a process that the players association has signed off on for years. When you are arbitration eligible, you can plead your case, until then, let’s just try to get through 200 innings without getting hurt before running our mouths about “respect.” I love Cole Hamels, but as you can tell, his little cry-fest really ticked me off.

– Speaking of the Phillies, I’m officially terrified of Kyle Kendrick and whoever our 5th starter turns out to be. I am rooting for Kris Benson to be healthy and “win” the 5th spot.

– I think Ryan Howard is going to be out of control good this year and that Jimmy Rollins won’t be able to put up the performance he did last year. I have nothing to back this up.

– I never really commented on the Phillies off-season because it abruptly ended when the Mets traded for Santana and everything we did seemed insignificant. However, I like nearly every move they made. Jenkins, Feliz, Lidge, Taguchi, Bruntlett, C. Durbin and Benson aren’t going to set the world on fire, but they are all slight upgrades (if healthy) over the people in their position last year (with the exception of the Rowand for Jenkins swap). The real reason the Phillies have been unable to make a move is our terribly thin farm-system. There were a lot of quality pitchers on the market that would couldn’t even get in the discussion with because we came up well short on the quality and quantity of prospects the teams were looking for in return. Overall Offseason Grade: B+.

– Couldn’t agree with Dannie more that people need to start watching the Sixers. They are young, exciting, and leave everything on the court. In the beginning of the year, I had them as one of the 5 worst teams in the NBA, but through sheer grit and determination, it looks like they are going to make the playoffs, and I’m kind of really really excited to see a playoff game again – even if the Pistons stomp all over us.

– You are killing me St. Joes. Absolutely killing me. Looks like the fate of Big-5 might rest in someone knocking off Xavier and winning the A-10. At this point, Temple might be the best bet.

It’s March – Let the Madness Begin

March MadnessMost people associate March Madness with conference tournaments that start in a little over a week and the NCAA tournament.  But Saturday was the first day of March, and the madness really starts from day one of the month.

There were some great college basketball games and storylines from the first weekend in March to get the best month of basketball started with a bang.

Top 25 games decided by 6 points or less – 7 out of 21 games

Games & upsets that impact tournament positioning

  • #5 Texas falls to Texas Tech by 3 in the most exciting finish on Saturday.  The loss for Texas effectively killed their hopes of being a number 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
  • #14 Vandy slips up against Arkansas by 5.  The Chris Webber Timeout blunder rears its ugly head for another player in a pressured-filled end-game situation.  Forward Ross Neltner called a timeout the Commodores didn’t have with 7.3 seconds remaining, and Vandy only down one.  A technical foul was assessed and the miscue helped Arkansas hold on for a 78-73 victory.  I thought Vanderbilt was a “smart” school?  Either way Arkansas gains a strong win that will likely improve their seed in the tourney.  In the loss Vandy’s Shan Foster became the all-time leading scorer in school history.  I have targeted him as a 2nd round draft pick the Sixers should look to go after to address their lack of 3-point shooting after trading Korver.  He has NBA range and NBA size.  This time we would need to keep the Vandy player we get and not pull another Derrick Byars who I loved in college.
  • #10 Georgetown sneaks by (again) #21 Marquette 70-68 in a classic Big East battle that was decided in overtime.  The Hoyas and Jonathan Wallace benefited not from another horrendous call by the officials like the Villanova debacle but terrible defensive decision-making on the part of Dominick James.  Down three, Wallace brought the ball down the sideline all the way to the deep corner and prepared to hoist a desperation three to tie the game, and James thought it was a good idea to reach for the ball on the shot attempt, DUMB.  Another example why the team up by 3 should foul early and not give the other team a chance to even shoot a three or have something like a foul called on a contested three-point attempt.  This was the philosophy of my college coach, and I am not sure why more coaches don’t adopt this strategy.  James fouled Wallace who calmly nailed all three free throws with 2.8 seconds left.  Marquette couldn’t recover in OT and missed a golden opportunity for a big conference victory.
  • #24 Kent State goes down to sub .500 Bowling GreenKent State worked its way into the Top 25 for the first time in school history by winning 9 of their last 10 games.  This loss just goes to show how tough it is to win on the road in conference play, regardless if it’s a major conference like the SEC or a mid-major like the MAC.

Big-Time close calls by the ACC powerhouses

Coach K’s 800th win came in the form of a nail-biting, potential upset at the hands of N.C. State.  Sidney Lowe’s squad dominated Duke for about 33 minutes and had an 8-point lead with 5:03 left (81-63).  At this point I thought N.C. State needed to keep scoring and get at least 87 points not to lose the game in regulation.  Duke proceeded to go on a 14-5 run to end the game.  Final score – 87-86 in favor of Duke, and I felt like a prophet.

UNC overcame an 18-point deficit early in the second half and a truly remarkable individual performance from Tyrese Rice to stay at the top of the ACC with the Blue Devils.  Rice scored 34 points in the first half breaking his previous career high of 32.  He finished with 46 for the game, the 3rd highest mark hung on UNC ever and the 2nd most points scored by a Boston College player in school history.  UNC went on a 22-3 run over the next 8 minutes and 7 seconds to take a 62-61 lead, proving they can score points fast and in bunches.  At that point Roy William’s team had the game in full control.  With Tennessee losing 24-hours after being ranked number 1, the Tar Heels are in position to be the #1 ranked team in the country Monday.  They also remain as one of the 4 top seeds in most people’s tournament bracket. The stage is set for the best game of the season next Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Missed opportunities and bubbles bursting – Every year there are teams barely in the tournament, on the bubble or outside the bubble looking in.  They will all have some opportunities down the stretch against ranked opponents and conference-leading teams to help their cause in the eyes of the selection committee.  Here are some teams that blew a chance to solidify their spot in the tournament the first two days of March.

  • Villanova – I said in a previous post Nova needed a key victory against either Marquette or Louisville this week.  My feeling was the Marquette game at the Wachovia Center on Monday was the more favorable game for the Wildcats to win, and they couldn’t get it done.  Today Louisville out worked Nova on the boards, their full court pressure fatigued Nova’s shooters and the Cardinals simply had more talent so the game was never really close.  Now Nova will have to win their last two regular games against South Florida and Providence just to stay on the bubble.  Then I think they must win at least two Big East Tournament games to be considered for an at-large bid.   
  • Saint Joseph’s – In a must win game against Big Five-rival Temple, the Hawks lost by one at the Palestra, likely falling completely off the bubble, and are now on the outside looking in.  Luckily for them they still have Xavier at home on Thursday, and a win could put them back in contention.  Then they have the conference tournament in which they will need to, at worst, make it to the championship game to be considered for an at-large bid.  They control their own destiny if they can run the table and win it all.  Joe Lunardi currently has two A-10 teams in the tournament (Xavier and Umass) with the Hawks in consideration.  Temple is the only team to beat Xavier in conference; they have beaten Umass and Saint Joe’s.  If Temple wins their last two against Duquesne and La Salle, I think Temple throws themselves in the mix as well with a strong A-10 tournament run.
  • Arizona – Even with a mediocre record of 17-12 and only 7-9 in conference, Zona is probably in on the strength of their out-of-conference schedule and the strength of the Pac-10.  A win today against UCLA would have been the clincher.  They ended up losing by two but showed they have top flight talent and can compete with the best in the country.  But they can’t keep losing just because they are playing tough competition. 
  • Kentucky – Sweeping the season series against #1 Tennessee would have been a huge win for Kentucky, but they simply ran out of gas late.  With a 16-11 overall record and a strong 10-4 in conference the question remains: will key wins at home against Vandy and Tenn be enough to get them in?  Right now I think not.  And with Patrick Patterson done for the remainder of the season things look real bleak for the Wildcats from Kentucky. 
  • Kansas State – Michael Beasley found out quickly that talk is cheap, especially in team sports.  The 14-point loss to Kansas marks K State’s fourth loss in a row, meaning their bubble is on the verge of bursting right now.
  • Syracuse – Why is this team always on the bubble even though they consistently bring in very talented recruits?  The Big East is tough but the Cuse clearly has enough talent to do better than they have.  The loss to Pitt means they must run through the Big East tournament to get in.  And if they don’t win right now chances are they won’t win next season either if Donte Greene declares for the NBA after his freshman year.
  • Ohio State – 14-point loss to Minnesota = NIT for OSU

BONUS Madness: The Sixers beat Phoenix on the road – Looking at the schedule I am pretty sure most of us marked this down as a loss.  To my surprise, after getting home from seeing Vantage Point Saturday night, I find out the Sixers overachieved again.  Granted the Suns are still trying to figure it out after they traded for the Daddy, but that takes nothing away from this hard-fought win.  Andre Miller (25 pts, 12 ast, 3 stls, and only 2 turns) attacked Phoenix’s major weakness – Steve Nash’s defense.  Ultimately that is why the Suns probably have no chance in the West, not Shaq.  Having to go up against one or more of the best PGs in the game in Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Baron Davis, and now Jason Kidd makes Nash’s liability on defense even more apparent.  If Miller can go off on him what will those studs do come playoff time?

Biggest takeaways from that game are Maurice Cheeks’s ability to motivate and get these guys to play extremely hard on the second game of a back-to-back.  They are 11-1 in the second game of their last 12 back-to-back situations.  This is huge to me and shows why Mo deserved that extension.  The other, Andre Iguodala showed he can step up and take over a game in stretches against a good team.  The Sixers will need much more of that down the stretch.  And if he can consistently play that way come playoff time, maybe he can make a believer out me that his deserves a max contract.  Not yet though.

LOVE MARCH! The best basketball and my birthday, what more can I ask for.

Sixers Craziness: The Door is Open for the 6th Seed

Wachovia Center

You know there is professional team playing basketball in Philadelphia, right?  So what the hell are those Philadelphia 76ers doing these days?  They’re playing for the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs right now – WAKE UP, Philly!

I was at the Orlando Magic bashing last night, and the turnout at the Wachovia Center was underwhelming to the say the least.  People, this is a legit playoff team playing solid team ball and giving 110% effort right now.  They have won 7 games in a row at home and 8 of their last 10.  They are sitting in 7th place in the East and only a game and half behind Washington for the 6th spot.  I think it’s about time we act like there is a pro basketball franchise in our city who hasn’t packed it in, like the team in Memphis, and show some damn support.  I must admit I have been a fair-weather Sixers fan myself lately, but no more.  Here is what ESPN thought pre-season about the Sixers:

You can make the case, in Philly’s first full season AAI (After Allen Iverson), that this is the only team in the East with zero hope of reaching the playoffs. Even if Larry Brown ends up taking this job back from Mo Cheeks.

OUCH!  But that is exactly why we need to support our overachieving team.  The Sixers are playing old school NBA basketball, a la the early ’80s.  Meaning, they play almost like there is no three-point line out there.  The Sixers are last in 3pt attempts (11.1 per game) and 3pt% (31%).  They win by rebounding hard especially on the offensive end, creating turnovers and running the break.  When they have to play in the half-court their offense consists of screening to create mid-range shots and opportunistic post-ups when mismatches are recognized (A. Miller destroying hometown standout Jameer Nelson).   The team philosophy, young developing players and some wins in the mix makes for a very entertaining basketball team to watch.

Here’s the kicker, with Caron Butler out indefinitely with a hip injury the time is now for the Sixers to snatch up the 6th playoff spot.  And that would open the door for some potential craziness come playoff time.

We all agree our guys have no chance against either Detroit or Boston.  But the Orlando Magic is another story.  Call me crazy or overly optimistic (I’ll take no offense I promise), but I think the Sixers have the ability to shock Orlando in the first round, here’s why:

  • Match-ups
    • Andre Miller vs. Jameer Nelson: Miller is averaging 24.7ppg and 8.7apg vs. Orlando whereas Nelson is only at 7.7ppg and 3.7apg – BIG advantage Sixers
    • Willie Green vs. Maurice Evans: Willie shines against the Magic putting up 19.7ppg, 58% fgs and 40% 3pt – BIG advantage Sixers
    • Andre Iguodala vs. Rashard Lewis: These guys’ numbers against each other are eerily similar in every statistically category – push
    • Thaddeus Young vs. Hedo Turkoglu: Clearly Hedo is the more developed and offensively-used player in this match-up so the numbers are lopsided.  The key for the Sixers is can Young force Hedo into taking tough, contested shots? – advantage Magic
    • Samuel Dalembert vs. Dwight Howard: Slamming Sammy D is no match for Superman by himself.  The key for the Sixers is to double-team the crap out of Howard with Willie Green forcing either Evans or Bogans to consistently make jumpers. – advantage Magic
    • Sixers Bench vs. Magic Bench: More specifically, Lou Williams, Reggie Evans, Rodney Carney, Jason Smith, Calvin Booth and Kevin Ollie vs. Keith Bogans, Keyon Dooling, Carlos Arroyo, Adonal Foyle and Brian Cook.  Sixers bench plays more minutes and I give them the edge simply because Lou Williams is better than any Magic bench player.  Plus these team stats – advantage Sixers
  • Youth and inexperience – Both teams are young and lack real playoff experience among their top players.  Hedo has to be the leader in the playoffs since he is the most impactful player with postseason experience.  But I think the Sixers advantage comes again in Andre Miller at the point bringing a level of experience that Orlando cannot match with their floor general Nelson.  Miller will be able to control the game and lead the younger Sixers in the postseason better than Jameer can.  I expect both Carlos Arroyo and Kevin Ollie to play more in the playoffs being more experienced guards.
  • Dwight Howard is a beast… but may not ready to lead a team in the playoffs.  He often shows his youth in games when the defense plays physical against him, double-teaming guards rake at the ball and the refs don’t give him every touch foul.  That game description is exactly what the playoffs will be like.  Wednesday was a perfect example of that.  I witnessed first hand how he gets very frustrated, complains to the refs when he isn’t getting the calls he seems to expect and becomes much less aggressive and less effective on offense.  Further, if he doesn’t make free throws in the playoffs fouling him becomes a viable strategy in close games anyway.

Ultimately what it will come down to is can the Sixers play with the same energy and offensive effectiveness on the road as they do at home.  For me this is the biggest question mark and the likely determining factor in whether they can turn my potential upset prediction into reality.  Sure makes for an exciting and truly unexpected stretch run for that pro basketball team we have in Philadelphia.

It’s Time to Put ‘Sixers’ and ‘Playoffs’ in the Same Sentence

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?