Well, guys, this is pretty much it. This is the season right here. The
Sixers failed to take care of business last night against the Orlando
Magic, unable to stop the Magic's makeshift Big Three of Dwight Howard,
J.J. Redick and Glenn "Big Baby" Davis, while the Celtics stomped the
Pacers in Indy, bringing their Atlantic Division lead to two games.
Meanwhile, everyone else is winning—the Hawks have moved to four games
above the Sixers in the standings, basically out of the Ballers' reach,
while both the Knicks and Bucks are coming up from behind, New York just
a half-game behind Philly at the eight seed and Milwaukee a mere
game-and-a-half from forcing 'em out of the playoffs.
The free-falling Sixers, losers of each of their last three and nine of
their last 13, simply have to win this game for their regular season to
have any meaning from here on out. If they lose this one, the Celtics
will be three games up on them and all but out of reach for the Atlantic
Division crown. At that point, the Sixers would essentially lose all
hope at a top-six seed, meaning their best bet would probably be to tank
for the eight seed just to avoid playing Miami in the first round (and
get the chance to lose to the Bulls in five or six instead)—or, if
they're feeling really ambitious, tank all the way out of the playoffs,
and earn a #12 or #13 pick (and something like a 0.25% chance of landing
a top-three selection) in the loaded '12 draft. Yeah. It's like that.
Adding to the stakes tonight is that Coach Collins has now made clear
the leash that the starting unit is on, with the basic message of Play Good Tonight Or Else.
This threat, of course, has implications beyond this season, since if
the Sixers' back court of Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner (and you can
through starting SF Andre Iguodala in there too) can't be counted on
long-term by Collins, that basically means that one of them has to
go—either Holiday, Turner, or possibly even Collins. Jrue and Evan were
supposed to be this team's future, but the results of their play as a
starting backcourt have been far from encouraging, with the two duo
seemingly unable to both have good games in the same contest, and the
team's outside shooting and floor-spacing obviously suffering from the
lack of a real three-point threat on the floor.
If the Sixers get soundly beaten tonight—a very real possibility,
natch—it really might be the death blow for this team's core, and could
(should?) lead to dramatic moves in the off-season, which many would
argue are already years overdue. But here's the thing: As much as the
sky resembles one which is falling, it's really not too late to save
this season yet. After the Celtics, only three of the Sixers' last ten
games are against playoff teams—one against the Magic and two against
the Pacers. True, eight of those ten are on the road, but they're
against teams like the Cavaliers, Raptors, Nets and Pistons—teams that,
even as miserably as the Sixers have played recently, they should stand a
pretty good chance against. If they handle the Celtics tonight, they'll
just be one game back, which they theoretically could make up from
Boston as they face the Heat and Hawks twice each in their final
stretch, in addition to one each against the Knicks, Bucks and Magic.
6:00 tip from the TD Banknorth Garden. One more shot at a path to redemption, guys, to proving that this season's 20-9 start meant something,
something more than the exhilarating wind-up to a devastating,
elongated regression to the mean. Show 'em that you're worth a damn.