Schedule will make Sixers work down stretch

Schedule will make Sixers work down stretch
March 30, 2012, 4:51 am
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With 16 games remaining in the season, the schedule doesnt look too friendly for the Sixers. Fighting with Boston and New York for their first Atlantic Division title since 2000-01 and just their second division crown since 1989-90, the Sixers just might have to do it on the road.
Of those final 16 games, 11 will be played away from the Wells Fargo Center. Moreover, the Sixers have four back-to-backs and one back-to-back-to-back that takes them from Orlando to Philadelphia and then off to Cleveland on consecutive nights.
But just to make it a little extra hellacious, the Sixers end the regular season with five straight games on the road.
The good part? Nine of the final 16 games are against teams that do not currently qualify for the playoffs. Given that the Sixers have taken care of those second-division teams, posting an 18-4 record against the non-qualifiers 10-4 against the teams remaining on the schedule this should bode well for Doug Collins team.
Right?
Not so fast, says Collins. With a few teams already headed to a date with a lottery pick, the pressure is on the teams jockeying for playoff position. The dangerous team, says Collins, is the one playing with nothing to lose.
What you see now is pretty interesting. Coming down the stretch you have a lot of teams Toronto beat Denver, New Jersey beat Indiana you see those teams and a lot of them are playing with the house money right now, Collins said after Thursdays practice at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Sometimes theyre the hardest teams to beat because they dont have that same kind of game pressure.
Additionally, the Sixers also play Atlanta, Miami, Boston, plus two games against Indiana and Orlando. This season the Sixers are 6-5 against those teams.
No matter how its boiled down, the Sixers have some work to do. That starts on Friday night in Washington against a team the Sixers have beaten three times this season already.
They say youre playing with the house money and its always easier that way, said Andre Iguodala. Ive been on both sides of that and when youre playing without anything to lose it allows you to take shots you normally wouldnt take you just say what the heck. Were in a position now where we cant play too timid or too safe. We have to maintain our confidence and stay focused the rest of the way.
Making it more interesting is the fact that the Wizards the Sixers play on Friday night is not the same team they beat up on earlier in the season. Javale McGee was traded away for veteran low-post menace, Nene. During an overtime loss against Denver in January, Nene lit up the Sixers for 20 points and 14 rebounds and since joining Washington he has posted three double-doubles in five games.
Its a different Washington team, Collins said. They made some trades and we know we have to get on that train and get ready to go to work.
Still, locked in a first-place tie with Boston in the Atlantic Division with the Knicks lurking just 2 games off the pace, the Sixers are fighting both for a division title as well as a berth in the playoffs. If they win the Atlantic, the Sixers can get no worse than a No. 4 seed in the playoffs. However, the Knicks currently hold the last playoff spot in the East with Milwaukee closing ground right behind them.
Though ESPN writer John Hollinger's NBA Playoff Odds list the Sixers as a 99.3 percent chance at making the playoffs with an 82.4 percent chance of winning the division Collins isnt ready to start scoreboard watching.
Besides, he cant do that anyway it drives him crazy.
I dont watch the games on TV because I need to get away from it, Collins said. If I did Id never get to sleep. I watch games analytically I dont watch games to have fun. When I watch my mind doesnt stop running.
Given the never-relenting pressure of the abbreviated season, Collins team has his mind racing enough as it is. Besides, the recipe is simple for the Sixers:
Were going to have to win games, Collins said.
E-mail John R. Finger at jfinger@comcastsportsnet.com.