A week and a half ago, it looked like the Philadelphia 76ers' season was over. OK -- in competitive terms, the season was actually over a whole lot earlier than that, basically ever since the Sixers' medical staff first started pumping helium into Joel Embiid's knee in late January. But this season was never really about being competitive anyway, it was about being fun, and after back to back blowout losses at home to the middling Pistons and Bucks -- following two season-ending, spirit-crushing injuries and one permanently unjustifiable trade -- it looked like the WFC was officially closed for funness.
But the Sixers would not be permafrowned so easily. On a four-game road trip, they went 1-3, beating the Lakers, taking the Blazers to OT, and leading the NBA-best Warriors for most of the second half. And last night, upon returning to Broad Street to host their old friend Nerlens Noel and his new-look Dallas Mavericks squad, they won by an unthinkable 42 points -- the largest margin of victory in either direction for a Sixers game this season, and their most supersized W since the Gordan Giricek era. And it was fun-un-un-unnnnnn.
Let's start with this: It was a "bad" Dario Saric game, and he still ended up with 10-7-5, a steal, a block and no turnovers in 26 minutes. He was one of seven Sixers to end in double figures, including Robert Covington scoring 18 on eight shots, Sergio Rodriguez putting up 13 on a perfect 5-5 shooting night, and Richaun Holmes pitching in 17 in 19 minutes. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot hit double digits for the third straight game and finished an unthinkable +40 for the night. Justin Anderson tied a career high with a game-best 19 against his former squad, including a putback dunk that left even the Flight Squad stupefied.
But first and foremost, the game was won on the defensive end. T.J., TLC and RoCo proved a devastating combo against the Mavs' wings, absolutely smothering the perimeter and allowing virtually no separation or penetration. Dirk Nowitzki flared up from the outside early, but still ended with just 10 for Dallas, and he was by far the high man in their starting five, with the other four combining for just 18 points and one lone three-pointer accounted for among them. The Sixers took off in the third quarter and just kept going, running Dallas straight out of the gym.
Needless to say this was not what anyone expected from the evening -- least of all poor Nerlens, who was given a nice video tribute a day after buying cheesesteaks for the entirety of the Delaware Valley, and had a spirited exchange of mutual appreciation with the Philly Phaithful in the building last night. But he certainly would've expected to log more than 18 minutes during his big homecoming game, and despite playing the most competently of any non-Dirk Mav (9-5-3 with a block and steal in his limited PT), he was unable to stave off garbage time and sat most of the second half.
What's more, the loss almost certainly knocks Dallas out of playoff contention, dropping them to 29-39, four games behind the surging Denver Nuggets with a long, tough road trip still to go. Sorry, Nerlens -- looks like Philly's gonna keep you out of the playoffs this season one way or the other. Hopefully, we can give you a kind of honorary Process Ring when this team is winning in the finals five (or 105) years from now. In the meantime, we wouldn't say we've moved on just yet, but it looks like we've playing the field again -- and playing to win -- at the very least.