It’s not how you start but rather it’s how you finish. Although, a great start often a good launching pad for a successful ending. And, in the case of the 2011-12 76ers, it is their scorching hot start to the season that has them in position for a division crown and a top 4 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
Yet, as great a story the Sixers have been this season, they haven’t really exceeded expectations by as wide of a margin as one may think. They sit in first place in the Atlantic at 26-21. That’s great and all, but we knew that they would end the season in the 35 to 40 win range and we knew that they would be a scrappy, tough team, centered in defense and athleticism.
What we didn’t know is that New York Knicks and Boston Celtics would fall off a cliff at the start of this compressed season and hand the Sixers the division on a silver platter. However, after Wednesday night’s mediocre performance, that platter is slowly becoming a dish designated for hors d’oeuvres.
The Celtics, who now only sit 1 games behind the Sixers in the division race, were a big let down at the tip off of the 2011-12 season. To no one’s surprise, we’ve seen that the original “Big 3’s” (Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett ) best days are behind them and while the Sixers jumped out to their 10-3 start, the Celtics began the year 5-8. There were talks of blowing it all up, including trading their possible centerpiece for the future, Rajon Rando.
Meanwhile, in New York, there has been more drama than any Broadway production could ever provide.
Where do we begin? Baron Davis gets injured and the Knicks once again have major point guard issues. Amare Stoudemire isn’t getting enough touches. Then, a hero rises from the ashes of Gotham, in the form of Jeremy Lin and the Knicks can’t loose. Carmelo Anthony returns from injury and reclaims his team. The Knicks loose a bunch of games. It’s Carmelo’s team to the point that coach Mike D’antoni resigns as Carmelo’s game doesn’t correlate to his (guard friendly) coaching style. Mike Woodson takes over and now they can’t loose. Got all that? Good.
Now recall, that coming into the season, the Knicks were supposed to battle, not for the Atlantic Division, but rather for Eastern Conference supremacy, along with Miami, and Chicago. That certainly hasn’t been the case and the Knicks for a long time were the biggest disappointment in the NBA. Until recently, they have been the poster child of underachievement.
Despite that roller coaster ride, the Knicks after Wednesday night’s debacle at the WFC, sit only 3 games behind the Sixers. The Knicks have won 5 in row under Mike Woodson and seem to be getting their house in order. As good as the Sixers have been at times this year, they have been blessed with a great deal of fortune as the Knicks, and in some regard the Celtics, have not played up to their potential. In fact, the Sixers have the worst record of any division leader in the league – BY FAR
On the other hand, the Sixers started the season as the ultimate overachievers, but have come back to Earth, to what we thought they’d be, a growing team that will play hard, compete but wouldn’t seriously be a championship contender. That’s no discredit to them. The 7-6 are a good, deep basketball team and could do some damage come playoff team. Though, their successful season is not the shock that many make it out to be.
A growing, well coached team like the Sixers is supposed to take advantage of an early weak schedule and propel themselves for position late in the season. That’s exactly what they’ve done.
Though, as of this point, their position in the standings has been more about their division friends failing to reach their lofty expectations than about the Sixers sitting just 5 games over .500. With 29 games to go left, they still have a chance to prove that they’ve earned the right to be in first place and they are for real, and they didn’t just get lucky.
They can start by getting a win against the Celtics when the national TV spotlight will once again shine brightly in South Philly. It is a Boston team that is too experienced just to fall away without a fight. The Celtics will be “all in” on Friday night especially after the Sixers embarrassed them in their last appearance in Philly, in what was Evan Turner’s coming out party.
The finish line isn’t here just yet but it’s approaching quickly and thanks to their great start and willingness to buy in to Coach Collins, the Sixers control their division destiny. It’s time to put some distance between themselves and the inconsistenat Atlantic Division pack. There is no more wiggle room. The time is now. Friday night will be their biggest game of the season
How will they respond?