The old adage about the 82-game NBA season is that it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Regardless, the Sixers have come to the point in the long course where it’s time to pick up the pace.
When the Sixers open the unofficial second half of the season on Wednesday night in Minnesota, it will be with a little more on the line than any other typical mid-February game. If the Sixers are going to get to the playoffs for the third straight season, they need to start making up ground.
“It’s big. I feel if we’re going to make the playoffs we have to make that push now,” said Jrue Holiday after Monday evening’s practice at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. “I know when it gets closer to the playoffs that pressure hits you and it’s tough to buckle down, but we need to get it done now even though we have a few injuries.”
Indeed, when the Sixers return to action on Wednesday night it will be without three starters. Jason Richardson is out for the year with a torn knee ligament, Thad Young is out until at least Sunday with a hamstring strain, and there is still no timetable for center Andrew Bynum to make his return.
With just 31 games remaining in the season, the Sixers (22-29) are four games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race and 5½ games behind the No. 7 Celtics.
However, since the Bucks have the tiebreaker over the Sixers by virtue of winning the season series, the Bucks are really five games ahead in the playoff race.
But catching the Bucks is the least of the Sixers’ worries. The final 31 games of the season aren’t going to do the Sixers any favors considering that 19 of them are on the road. The Sixers also have another west-coast trip that will take them to Los Angeles, Denver, Sacramento and Utah, and they still have to play the defending NBA champion Miami Heat four times.
Of the final 31 games, 18 are against teams that made the playoffs last season and 19 are against teams that would qualify for the playoffs if the season were to end today.
In other words, it’s time to get moving.
“If you start working numbers and you win 18 and go 18-13 and you’re five over, then the other team would have to win 12. The numbers start to get down and that's a little bit of a concern,” coach Doug Collins said. “For us, we have to string some together and I think our last road win was January 1. Our schedule is much tougher over the last 31 games so we’re going to have to play very, very well.”
Over the last 11 82-game NBA seasons, the No. 8 seed in the East has averaged 39.7 wins per season. To get there it would take the 18-13 record that Collins alluded to.
“It’s definitely going to be tough,” Thad Young said.
But is it impossible? Considering that the Sixers were 7-4, 10-6 and 12-9 at different points this season, the Sixers have put together some decent runs with a couple of wins over the Celtics and Nuggets. However, since Dec. 10 the Sixers are 4-14 against teams that are potentially playoff-bound.
Yeah, it’s going to be tough. But It’s going to be especially tough with 19 games on the road and a Sixers team that is only 6-16 away from the Wells Fargo Center this season.