The Philadelphia 76ers came into the 2008 season looking like a team on the rise. After an impressive late season push into the playoffs, they even managed to win two games against a heavily favored Detroit Pistons team. With the Philadelphia community buzzing with excitement over the success of such a young and speedy team, the front office went after one of the top free agents, forward Elton Brand.
With a great mixture of youth and experience, and an extremely talented squad, the Sixers hoped to make some noise in an overall weak Eastern Conference. With a big opportunity on their hands, the Sixers stumbled out of the gate.
Iguodala looked like he forgot how to play basketball in the month of November and Elton brand was inconsistent at best. One game he would look like his old self, putting up 20 points and 10 rebounds, and others he would look slow and lost. Miller also struggled early in the year, having trouble scoring, when he made it look so easy last year.
After a 9-14 start, Maurice Cheeks was fired as head coach and Tony DiLeo stepped in. Since DiLeo took the reins the Sixers are 21-17.
Despite the poor start by most of the team’s players, there was plenty to look forward to in Sixerville. There young core kept Sixer fans optimistic. Marreese Speights, a rookie out of Florida, was showing his athleticism, and Thaddeus Young was continuing his excellent play from last season.
Things were starting to look better in early in mid-January as the Sixers won seven games in a row and Elton Brand was expected to come back quickly from a minor injury that forced him to sit out 16 games. Brand’s return was short lived, only lasting six games before injuring his right shoulder. Season ending surgery was required and the Sixers were forced to roll on without him.
Despite all the setbacks throughout the first half of the season, the Sixers were the hottest team going into the All Star break, going 14-4 in 18 games before the break.
Since, the Sixers have cooled off and have gone 3-7 out of the All Star break. Some of those games were tough games that the Sixers can’t be blamed for, but others include losses to the lowly Pacers, Nets, and Thunder; all teams that playoff caliber team should be able to handle.
The Philadelphia 76ers record currently stands at 30-31, and the Sixers lie in the seventh spot of the Eastern Conference standings. The East is an interesting conference—one where a small hot streak can push you into the playoffs. The top three teams may be a dozen games over everyone else, but the four through twelve seeds are only eight games apart; eight games that can be covered with a little late season push.
Now, this isn’t necessarily good news for the Sixers. Although it does mean that they’re currently only four games from the four seed, it also means that they’re only three games from spending the playoffs on the golf course.
Out of the 21 remaining games, about half of them are games the Sixers should be able to win. They play Chicago twice, Charlotte twice, Minnesota once, and several other teams below .500. If the Sixers don’t take ninety percent of those games, they mind find it hard to make the playoffs.
The other half of the games are a bit tougher. They play Cleveland twice, Boston once, the Lakers once, as well as several other NBA power houses. If the Sixers could steal a few of those games, it can only help their shot at the playoffs.
If the Sixers want to make the playoffs, they need a total team effort. Andre Miller needs to carry the team and lead the offense like he did down the stretch last season. Andre Iguodala needs to play with the All Star talent that he possesses. There is a big difference between 18 and 24 points. The Sixers have won 15 out of 25 games when Iguodala scores more than 20 points.
Another key to the Sixers is Marreese Speights. The Sixers are 13-3 when Speights gets more than 20 minutes of playing time. Speights has an unbelievable amount of athleticism and extremely high potential.
The Sixers need to keep the games they play high energy and fast paced. If they do that, they’ll find that not many teams can keep up with a team as young and speedy as they are. Not only can the other teams not match the speed and intensity, but they can’t match the stamina that the Sixers have. The faster paced the game is, the more they’ll wear their opponents down.
On the defensive side of the ball, if the Sixers can keep their opponents under 95 points a game it’ll help the team immensely. The Sixers generally have no trouble scoring and most of their recent troubles have been because they are letting their opponents score in the high 90s and low 100s.
Unfortunately for the Sixers, no matter how strong of a push they make, they will have a hard time making a deep playoff push with power houses such as Boston, Cleveland, and Orlando bound to dominate the East. If they secure a four or five seed they may win their first series, but they'll have to face the big boys sooner or later.