"By any means necessary" is the Sixers plan for the final four games. Nursing a three-game lead over Milwaukee for the eighth and final playoff berth in the East, the Sixers dont care how they get there
Just as long as they get there.
Just get us in and well see how the stars line up, coach Doug Collins said after Friday afternoons practice at the Philadelphia College for Osteopathic Medicine.
Collins knows as well as anyone that the slate is wiped clean come playoff time. After all, he was the coach of the Chicago Bulls in 1989 when his team went 0-6 against the Cavaliers during the regular season with a loss in the finale thrown in just for good measure. Then, when the playoffs began, the Bulls knocked off the Cavs in five games before advancing all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals.
When I was in Chicagoand you can look it upwe played Cleveland in the last game of the regular season at Chicago Stadium. They beat us without three of their starters and we had to play them to open the playoffswe had not beaten them all year. We beat them in the playoffs and thats how things change in the playoffs, Collins said.
Collins says the six straight defeats in the regular season helped him figure out how to set up defenses against Cleveland, though the Bulls outscored the Cavs by just six points in the best-of-five series.
I told all of our guys that I went back and went through the tapes and tried to lip sync the plays Cavs coach Lenny Wilkens was calling with what we wanted to do. I gave our guys multiple-choice tests on what their play calls were and we were able to beat them, Collins said.
Of course the Bulls had one secret weapon in that series, too.
We had a guy named Michael Jordan who hit an incredible shot and we were able to win that playoff series, Collins said.
Still, the scenario for the 2012 76ers and the 1989 Bulls couldnt be more different. That Bulls team knew it would face Cleveland no matter what before the tip-off of the final game of the regular season. Everything had been wrapped up well in advance with the Bulls settled into the No. 6 seed just two seasons before they won the NBA Finals six times in eight years.
This year the Sixers could still catch the No. 7-seeded Knicks, who are just one game (plus a tiebreaker) ahead in the Atlantic Division. But then again, the Sixers could fall to ninth place and out of the playoff picture altogether.
If we dont play well we wont be going in, so you dont have to worry about that, Collins said. If youre not playing well you wont be in.
The Sixers have struggled to win games since the end of February where they have gone 12-21 after the first 29 games. Oddly enough, the Sixers have struggled despite playing some decent offense. Over the last six games the team is 3-3 but has scored at least 100 points three times and 97 once. The Sixers also lost to the Nets at home three days after beating them by 19 on the road, and fell to the Dwight Howard-less Magic in a 113-100 decision that really wasnt as close as the score indicated.
Regardless, it may only take just one more win over the final four road games (at Indiana on Saturday, in New Jersey on Monday and then a back-to-back to close out the season in Milwaukee and Detroit starting Wednesday) to sew it up.
Were looking forward to it, said Jodie Meeks, who has struggled with his shooting lately. We cant do anything about the past so were just trying to win as many of these as we can to try and have a good playoff run.
If the Sixers get into the playoffs, the opponent will be either Chicago or Miami. The Bulls lead the Heat by 1 games for the top seed in the East with three games remaining. Meanwhile, the tiebreakers have yet to be decided so its possible the Sixers wont know if they play Chicago or Miami until all the numbers are crunched at the bitter end.
Thats fine by Collins.
Anything can happenabsolutely, the coach said. But you have to get there. You have to get there to give yourself a chance. Thats what you have to do.
Certainly thats the way it shook out for the Bulls 23 years ago. And to think, all it took was one shot by Jordan over Craig Ehlo to make the regular-season matchups virtually meaningless.