Feb 19, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doug Collins against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Target Center. The Timberwolves defeated the 76ers 92-91. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE
Despite losing 16 of their past 25 games, the Sixers can take back the Atlantic Division lead with two wins this weekend.
If you've followed this Philadelphia 76ers team throughout the season, you've run the gamut as a fan. After their dominant start, they've come crashing down to earth with two blowout losses to the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors in the past week serving as (hopefully) their bottom. Despite losing 16 of their past 25 games, they control their own destiny heading into a tough back-to-back this weekend.
The Sixers currently sit one game behind the Celtics (losers of two straight), but they hold the tiebreaker over Boston having clinched it by beating Boston in their first two meetings. Tomorrow night, the Orlando Magic will bring their ongoing soap opera to the Wells Fargo Center for an 8pm showdown on Fan Appreciation Night. Then, at 6pm on Sunday, the Sixers will travel to Boston to take on the Celtics for the third and final time this season. Win both games, and the Sixers emerge on Monday in first place in the Atlantic Division.
The overwhelming feeling of deja vu we've suffered through over the past two months watching the Sixers regress to their mean has been disheartening. The toll it's taken on the players is unknowable. They might be a broken team. They might have tuned Doug Collins out. They might be begging for a change, any kind of change. They might not have any answers anymore. But even if they are a mediocre basketball team, and have been for years, they've routinely displayed an undying resiliency. When you count them out, they bounce back. If they have that in them. If they have any kind of resolve, any kind of desire to win the Atlantic Division and salvage something out of this season, now is their moment. It has to start tomorrow night, because if they lose the division, they're going to face either the Miami Heat or the Chicago Bulls in the first round, and that's a recipe for an early summer. Actually, if they don't take the division, they might miss the playoffs altogether.
Even if the team's flaws seem more fatal now than they did back in February, none of the holes will be filled between now and July. The long term is inconsequential. Who will still be playing here next year is a fun topic to kick around with your friends to lessen the sting of the Raptors loss, but it's inconsequential at the moment. The Sixers' two stated goals of winning the Atlantic and winning a round in the playoffs are still well within reach. The smoke and mirrors have worn off, for everyone. Achieving those two goals shouldn't fool anyone into thinking major changes are no longer needed, but as a Sixers' fan, I don't want to see this team fold at this point. Not after the start to the season we all saw. They no longer deserve better than that fate based on their contemptuous play for more than a third of the season. They don't deserve it, but they can go out there and earn it.
If they can take these two games, they should have the inside track to holding on to the division. The Celtics have seven games in nine days beginning Tuesday before finishing up with games against the Hawks, Heat and Bucks. Only three of the Sixers' final 10 games will be against playoff teams.