Posted by Matt Moore
They were supposed to be an afterthought. Many, including this here blogger, thought it was time for a proper blowup. How far could they go with a broken down Elton Brand, a regressing Thaddeus Young, an inexperienced point guard in Jrue Holiday, and the ultimate jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none Andre Iguodala who had been on the trade block for what felt like a decade?
Turns out pretty far. As in, the playoffs.
From the Philadelphia Inquirer's Deep Sixer blog:
With tonight’s 115-90 win over the New Jersey Nets, the Sixers have clinched a playoff berth with exactly six games remaining in the NBA’s regular season schedule. Considering the Sixers are multiple games ahead of the New York Knicks and multiple games behind the Atlanta Hawks, it’s safe to assume they’ll end up with the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference. Their opponent, likely either the Miami Heat or the Boston Celtics, is yet to be determined.via Deep Sixer: Inquirer Sports.
Part of the interesting part of this game was the reaction from the Sixers. There wasn’t much celebration, which is a good sign. And there was much talk about ending this regular season quite well, something the 2008-09 team did not do.
“I think the biggest thing is for Elton and myself to really stay on the guys as far as having a purpose every night,” said swingman Andre Iguodala. “We got there, but we still have a purpose. We still have to go out there and play hard.”
The Sixers are in, Detroit is out. The Pistons were eliminated with the Pacers win over Milwaukee (which pretty much, but not officially sunk the Bucks as well). The Pistons never got it together this season, despite some promising young players, mostly because their older players undermined their coach, who also did a pretty terrible job. The roster needs a major overhaul, and fast. The entire team needs a new coach, a new identity, and a new emphasis on the young core they have. Oh, and a new owner. That'd be good, too.
Back to the Sixers, Philadelphia is as playing as well right now as any team outside of the elite teams in either conference. While Boston is their likely opponent, and will likely dispatch them post-haste, the Sixers do have some matchups they can throw at either Boston, Chicago, or Miami. Perhaps most importantly, the Sixers are getting even contributions from multiple sets of players, from the bench, from the bigs, from the guards, and the wings. The team believes in itself, and that can be a scary thing to try and overcome for a favorite in the first round. Throw in some Coach of the Year quality work from Doug Collins, and the Sixers haven't just assured they'll be in the dance, they're goin to be a tough out.
Lost in all this is the fact that Evan Turner yet again did not play Friday night. Turner has been DNP-CD'd multiple times down the stretch, in favor of... Andres Nocioni. Doug Collins is the guy who turned this team around and got them into the playoffs, so you have to extend a modicum of respect for his decisions which have gotten them this far. But the absence of the Sixers' second overall pick remains a curious question mark for the team going forward.
The Sixers are very near a mathematical certainty to play as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. For more on the playoff picture, check out Royce Young's comprehensive look.