The 76ers finished the season last year winning 38 of the last 66 games to finish with a 41–41 record. They went on to put up a fight with the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs, eventually losing in five games.
After putting up such a gallant fight against the NBA's biggest bullies in the playoffs, the 76ers looked set to have a great season.
The 2012 lockout-shortened season started off great. The 76ers looked young, energetic and played stifling defense. Head coach Doug Collins showed vast improvement from his previous stops with the Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards. Because of past failures and experiences, Collins has made himself one of the best coaches in the NBA.
Lately, the 76ers have been struggling. They've been playing .500 basketball in the month of March. Other than a couple of wins over Boston, the 76ers haven't beaten an elite team since the Los Angeles Lakers in early February.
In a playoff series, the best team always wins. The best team is usually the one with the hottest player, the best coaching and the best defense. Last season, the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA championship because Dirk Nowitzki was the best player in the playoffs. He out-dueled Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Dwayne Wade and LeBron James. Head coach Rick Carlisle put on a coaching clinic and the Mavericks played great defense throughout the playoffs.
The 76ers have two of the three aspects of a championship team. Because of their defense and coaching the 76ers are always in games. The two prevent the 76ers from losing big often. They are always in games at the end.
But because of their lack of a true go-to guy, they lose a lot of those close games. They don't have that player on their roster that will throw the team on his back and carry them down the stretch.
The 76ers are basically the Denver Nuggets of the Eastern Conference. Instead of a having a true go-to guy, they are loaded with a bunch of above-average players. That kind of a roster works in the regular season, but suffers in the playoffs. When the 76ers face the Magic, Heat or Bulls, how are they going to match up against their best players? They don't have a single guy on the roster than can counteract Wade, James, Derrick Rose or Dwight Howard. It is nearly impossible to win a championship in the NBA without one of the league's best players. The last time it was done was when the Detroit Pistons beat the Lakers in 2004.
The 76ers should be concerned about their recent play. In January, they were one of the hottest teams in the NBA. Now, they can't beat any good teams other than the old Celtics who they match up with well. The team as a whole has regressed. As Dennis Deitch of The Reporter said, "the Sixers of March 22 would get whooped by the Sixers of Jan. 22."
It's going to take a lot for the 76ers to do any serious damage in the playoffs. They have the team defense and the coaching, but not the elite individual player that is needed to win a NBA championship. 76ers fans should be proud though. High quality basketball in Philadelphia is back and it looks like it is here to stay. Maybe next year the 76ers can make the leap from pretender to contender.