02/21/11 10:53 am EST
There are 26 games left on the docket and the numbers 15 and 11 are numerals which tell the story on the surface. 15 games remain at home and 11 on the road. There are 15 games remaining against teams under .500 and 11 games left against above .500 opponents. Finally, the Sixers need to go 15-11 to finish above .500
Underneath the surface is a team who shouldn’t even be in this discussion. The key components are virtually the same as last year’s lottery team. An overpaid, undersized power forward in Elton Brand. A lockdown combo small forward who doesn’t score much. A 20-year-old point guard, among a throng of others who are barely the legal age to drink. And a rotation of centers that’s sketchy at best.
But that’s what’s fun about this team. They are doing what they weren’t supposed to do. A New York Knicks turnaround with Amare, now that was expected. I could have told you Chicago would start blooming with Derrick Rose’s growth and the addition of Carlos Boozer.
The Sixers have risen rather quickly from the ashes Eddie Jordan left in his short stint as coach. Key contributions from the bench have been more than anticipated with Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams teaming up for a lethal combo against other second teams. You may have read for most of the season that this team has been winning on defense, and it has for the most part. But this offense has revved up to become a fast paced team who often wears teams down before the fourth quarter begins. The Sixers scored at least 94+ points in 18 straight games between January 5th and Februray 9th, their longest such streak since 1991.
The real question is: Can the Sixers fend off the Pacers, Bucks, Bobcats and even the Pistons from entering the playoff picture? My answer — Yes.
On nights where Iguodala and Brand seem to falter, plenty of others have risen to the occasion and solidified Philly wins. Doug Collins has been getting everything out of his players and is a brilliant strategist. He’s covered up the Sixers weakness in height and star power by proving that perimeter defense and taking care of the basketball can still be a winning formula in today’s NBA.
I went ahead and simulated the season in my mind and I’ve grouped each of the remaining games into five categories: Near-Impossible to Win, Must Play Awesome to Win, Toss Ups, Extremely Winnable and Will Win (I hope Nabeel gets these recaps).
Seven of the first nine games will be taking place at the Wells Fargo Center, a place where the 76ers have gone 17-9, tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference. And let’s hope the Sixers can remain nipping on the heels of the Knicks. If the race is still close coming down to the final stretch of the season, the Sixers close out with four straight games in Philly.
Without further ado…
Near-Impossible to Win (0-2)
@Miami (March 25), @Boston (April 5)
One of these two teams will be representing the East in the NBA finals. Even late in the season Boston and Miami will use a game against the defensive-laden Sixers to test their offensive-might.
Must Play Awesome to Win (1-4)
Dallas (March 1), Oklahoma City (March 9), Boston (March 11), @Chicago (March 28), Orlando (April 11)
Dallas is way too tall, Durant is too good and even though we’ve played Boston well, they are the deepest team in the League. The two games to keep an eye on are the Bulls and Magic, two potential playoff opponents if we nab the sixth seed.
The Sixers have beat the undermanned Magic once and lost two nail-biters, one in overtime. Dwight Howard went off for 30 and 17 and the Magic were only able to win by four points on February 9th. No other Magic player was able to score over 13 points in the contest, demonstrating the 76ers defense prowess. Howard is one of VERY few players to foul out against the 76ers this season and in January the Sixers nearly won.
The Bulls are a tougher matchup especially with the ensuing return of Joakim Noah. But here’s one thing about the Bulls: they can get extremely cold shoot threes. They were 3-of-15 against the Sixers. If we can make them rely on the perimeter, we’ll have a good shot.
Toss Ups (3-3)
Golden State (March 6), @Utah (March 14), @Portland (March 19), Atlanta (March 23), Houston (March 30), New York (April 6)
Four Western Conference opponents end up in the toss up category may have seemed like a stretch coking into this year. But some of the Sixers most impressive wins have come against the West (Spurs, Nuggets twice, Suns twice, Jazz) and Philly is 11-9 overall.
The Golden State loss came without Andre Iguodala, so don’t expect 28 points again from Dorrell Wright this time around. Not one player had a positive in the +/- category either in the Bay Area either. Expect some different results at home.
Kind of weird to say this but LaMarcus Aldridge may be the best player out in this toss up category. He’s scored over 34 five times in February (over 40 twice) and is averaging 29 and 8.6 this month. He poses a huge matchup problem for the 76ers which I predict will result in a loss.
We’ve seen the softness of Atlanta, Houston and New York’s defenses but it would be tough to steal all three from them. Atlanta is 7.5 games ahead of Philadelphia, so the fifth seed is nearly insurmountable.
Extremely Winnable (5-2)
Detroit (Feb. 25, April 13), @Indiana (March 8), @Milwaukee (March 12, April 2), @LA Clippers (March 16), @Sacramento (March 18)
The Detroit game scares me. Monroe, Daye and Prince are lanky Neanderthals that will expose Brand and Thaddeus Young. The Clippers are a much better team than the one we handled on December 15th. We’ll probably split with Milwaukee knowing how good they are defensively. And who knows with DeMarcus Cousins. He’s killed teams like the Lakers, Thunder and Atlanta.
I hope Nabeel gets these recaps…(6-0)
Washington (Feb. 23), @Cleveland (Feb. 27), Minnesota (March 4), Sacramento (March 27), New Jersey (April 1), Toronto (April 8).
Mayyyybeeee Minnesota with a healthy Michael Beasley. Possibly Toronto. But none of these other losses would be excusable, even with an injury to Brand or Iguodala.
So there you have it. 15 wins, 11 losses. Your Philadelphia 76ers will finish 42-40 after the horrific 3-13 start. Note the key stretch in the schedule. After March 4th, there isn’t a real automatic easy game until Sacramento on March 27th. Those 11 games will be the stretch that really defines Doug Collins first year as the coach.
He really should be coach of the year with what he’s done without a superstar and the five key players under 23-years of age. Who over him? Tom Thibodeau? But he has so much talent in Chi-Town. Rick Carlisle? But it’s really all been Dirk. The team is 2-7 without him. It has to be Collins. Plus Lou Williams very well could win the Sixth man award if the Sixers win a few of those games I’ve pegged as tough matchups.
Other team storylines I’ll be watching closely over the 2nd half…
- Evan Turner’s ability to score on a regular basis
- Thaddeus Young’s defense with his impending free agency
- Will anyone outside of Lou Williams demand the ball in the fourth quarter?
- How many times will AI9 and Brand score 20 points together?
- Can the Sixers overcome their collapsing fourth quarter ways?