The lack of a buzz surrounding the Sixers current post season campaign is not surprising. The city of Philadelphia has experienced an emotional sports roller coaster over the past six months and frankly, people are exhausted. The ride started with the slow upward climb that was MLB’s regular season, reaching its peak when the Phillies captured the city’s first major sports title in 25 years. It looked as though the city would continue to ride high during the NFL season, as the hype built around the Eagles, with many picking them as the favorite to win the Super Bowl. However, the ride twisted and turned all over the place and nearly made us sick to our stomachs after the Birds played an inconsistent regular season, then made an improbable run in the postseason that put them just one win away from another Super Bowl appearance, only to have the Arizona Cardinals slam the brakes on the Eagles post season ride and ask us the fans to exit the cars to the left and have a nice day.
Of course it does not help that a 76ers appearance in the first round of the NBA Playoffs has become commonplace. So too, however, has a first round exit. Since the departure of #3 (and arguably even before then) the Sixers have been stuck in mediocre mode. They are a formidable opponent for any team. However unlike the Phillies and Eagles, they are never regarded as a true contender. This situation leaves fans at a crossroads; hoping for the best, while trying not to become too emotionally invested in the team. Thus, a breakthrough is necessary; something to ignite the team and its fans, and generate interest in the club that has not been felt since their 2001 Iverson-led charge to the Finals. Luckily, Philadelphia sports fans are seemingly always ready to explode (as demonstrated throughout the past half year), and a victory in a playoff series would certainly propel the Sixers back into Philly’s focal point.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, the Sixers still need to win a series, which has proven to be quite difficult over the past few years, and a first round matchup with Orlando and their dominating big man, Dwight Howard, certainly does not lighten the load. As the 76ers prepare for this series, I really feel that it is important for the Sixers to view the Magic as what they truly are; an obstacle; an obstacle standing in the way of the Sixers return to NBA-prominence, and the restoration of pride in our professional basketball franchise amongst the Philly faithful.
Despite the 0-3 regular season record against Orlando I still feel that the 76ers have a legitimate shot at winning this series. Overall, I question Orlando’s ability to keep pace with the Sixers up-tempo style for an entire series, and on top of this I believe that the Sixers have some favorable matchups as well. They have the edge in the backcourt with the rotation of Andre Miller, Willie Green, and Sweet Lou over-matching the threesome of Rafer, Anthony Johnson and rookie Courtney Lee. Orlando has outstanding wing players in Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu, but I believe their injuries as well as the aggressive defense of Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young can combine to neutralize the Magic’s perimeter attack. Additionally, ‘Dre and Thad will force Orlando’s Lewis and Hedo to work on the defensive end, something neither player enjoys or is capable of doing.
This leaves one man in Orlando’s rotation, who just might be the X-factor or if you will, the Super X-factor in this first round match up – Dwight Howard. Coming off a season in which he led the L in blocks and rebounds, and heard his name tossed around in every award discussion from MVP to Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight looks primed for a playoff run, and slowing him down will be no small task, literally. Dwight has the ability to dominate a game and swing a series, and there is certainly not one player in this Sixers lineup that can match up with him physically. However, if some of their frontcourt players step up and find a way to keep Dwight’s impact on this series at a mere mortal level, the 76ers will put themselves into a position to push into the second round of the playoffs.
So, my advice to the fans of Philadunkia: Grab an energy drink or two, pump yourself up and get back on the roller coaster, this time with the 76ers.