The Philadelphia 76ers have started out this season with a mediocre 15-20 record, and they sit on the borderline of being a playoff team.
This is a step back from last season, especially since Sixer fans were expecting improvement with new additions to the team. Nevertheless, we should still expect that they make the playoffs because they have playoff-caliber talent. They just have not been playing to the best of their abilities.
They should finish the regular season anywhere from an even .500 to 45-37, which would probably give them anywhere from a sixth to eighth seed in the playoffs. But exactly how they will get there?
Thirty-five games into the season last year, the Sixers were 21-14 and off to a much stronger start than this year. That said, they did slow down the second half of the season last year, so does that mean they will do the same again this year? Well, not necessarily.
Actually, quite the opposite should take place.
The Sixers have been a streaky team over the past few years, and they are again this season. And while a slow start is nothing to be content with, it could indicate that Philadelphia is primed to hit its stride soon, perhaps early in the second half of the season.
Considering they are 5-15 over their past 20 games, they are due for a turnaround. Any team with the talent level and experience of the Sixers does not consistently produce at such a low level.
Plus, they have a favorable schedule ahead. In fact, they play the Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards three times and the Sacramento Kings, Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors twice each. That's 12 games against teams that are significantly worse than they are.
As for Jrue Holiday, do not expect him to slow down one bit. The young point guard is averaging 18.4 points and almost nine assists per game. Not only has he displayed consistency, but he is also visibly confident in controlling the offense. Skills like this only get better with experience.
His consistent production should help put the Sixers back on track, and Bynum can only help once he returns.
But let's not look so much at individual players because the Sixers are a team on which every player contributes.
Right now the Sixers have the ninth-best defense in the league, allowing 96.6 points per game. While this is still good, the Sixers have the ability to be a premier defensive team. Last year they allowed just 89.4 points per game, which ranked them third in the league.
Doug Collins also needs to play a key role in enforcing a more defensive-minded attitude since its the team's defensive intensity, along with its transition game, that gives the Sixers the ability to win games.
Also, it's important to look at the teams around Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference. It will be more likely for those marginal teams to fall out of the playoff picture than to remain in the hunt.
Assuming the Miami Heat, New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers win their respective divisions, they should take the first three seeds while the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets snag the next two. That leaves the sixth, seventh and eighth seeds open for competition between the Sixers, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bucks, who are probably more vulnerable to sliding than the Celtics, are currently on a four-game losing streak with a tough road ahead of them; they play the Hawks four times and the Heat, Knicks and Thunder twice. Thus, they are definitely likely to fall below the eighth seed, which means the Sixers will have the opportunity to move up the standings.
The bottom line: The Sixers are a better team than what they have shown, and they are bound to make a comeback, as a number of conditions appear to be in their favor.
Sixers fans should not doubt their team because there is still a long season ahead, and many things are vulnerable to change.