There's talent, of course. And 57 more wins this season, along with a gap of 138 wins over the past three years. There's also the presence of an MVP, an elite offense, a great defense and a whole mess of brilliant personnel moves in one organization...and none of those things on the other.
There's something else, too.
The Warriors have had tons of it—from signing Stephen Curry at a discount, to winning a post-tank coin flip for the right to pick Harrison Barnes, to Draymond Green slipping past everyone and landing in the second round, to not trading Klay Thompson for Kevin Love. Thompson posted 40 points against the Sixers, while Green notched his 12th triple-double of the season.
There was plenty of good judgment in the moves that led to the Warriors roster, but fortune is a factor whenever things work out that well. The same is true when things go as badly as they have for the Sixers.
In the latter case, a lack of luck doesn't mean the logic is flawed.
Which brings us to the latest predictable report of general manager Sam Hinkie's job security, per Michael Kaskey-Blomain of TheSixerSense.com:
Per a team source, Sam Hinkie's long-term future w/ the #sixers is in jeopardy. Some in front office unhappy with lack of rebuild progress.— Michael K-B (@therealmikekb) March 27, 2016
The same sentiment contributed to Jerry Colangelo's hire in December, but you'll notice Philadelphia's levels of success haven't changed since then. Unless you consider the difference between 1-21 (the Sixers' record when Colangelo came on) and 9-65 (their record now) somehow significant.
Whatever dissatisfaction exists toward Hinkie within the organization feels, as always, shortsighted. This is a team executing a plan exactly as it hoped, and the results of three straight awful seasons include a boatload of draft assets, no cap-crippling contracts, an enviable stable of young talent and the virtual certainty of future improvement (because, for one thing, how could it get worse?).
Derek Bodner of Philadelphia Magazine keeps tabs on the 76ers' draft options. At worst, Philly will have three first-rounders. At best, it could wind up with the first and fourth picks in the draft, along with two more late first-round selections. And the swap rights the 76ers have with the Sacramento Kings mean Philadelphia will have between a 26.7 percent and 33.8 percent chance at the top overall selection. Its shot at a top-two selection could get as high as 59.6 percent if the Kings really bottom out the rest of the way.
|Pick Owned By||Lottery Position||Chance Pick Conveys|
|Lakers, Top-3 Protected||2||44.2%|
|Heat Top-10 Protected||22||100%|
|Thunder, Top-15 Protected||27||100%|
Derek Bodner, Philadelphia Magazin
The aspects of the rebuild outside of Hinkie and the Sixers' control have all gone horribly wrong. Suppose for a second Philadelphia's core included Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, or even Jabari Parker and D'Angelo Russell. If the ping-pong balls had bounced as expected, that's how things should have gone.
Even so, things aren't all that dispiriting.
Joel Embiid should be ready to start his career next season, Nerlens Noel has promise, Jahlil Okafor showed flashes in his first year and Dario Saric is expected to come over from Europe. The win totals of the past few years are hard to take, but what if Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram joins in this year's draft? You'd be hard-pressed to find many teams with more intriguing young talent.
And when you consider the progress of other, more conventional rebuilds, the dissatisfaction with Hinkie seems even sillier.
The Sixers' rebuild started in 2013-14, the same year the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers also began their recent (and ongoing) playoff droughts. Those marquee teams owe future assets left and right and have further complicated matters by signing middling free agents in hopes of competing for the playoffs. Whatever frustration surrounds the 76ers should doubly encircle those organizations. At least Philly is following steps in a plan.
And what about a team like the Sacramento Kings? No playoff berths since 2005-06, and no 30-win seasons since 2007-08. In what world is their approach better than the Sixers'?
There are plenty of teams failing to progress because of bad planning. The Sixers aren't one of them. They're where they are because of bad luck and unreasonable fix-it-now expectations. When people can't see that—whether they're within the organization or without—it's frustrating.
Ben Detrick of the New York Times gets it:
anyone chirping about the sixers' "lack of progress" fundamentally misunderstands hinkie's rebuilding plan— Ben Detrick (@bdetrick) March 27, 2016
The 76ers' tactics bother people who mistake them as evidence that winning isn't an organizational priority. What The Process actually proves is the opposite. The Sixers care more about winning than any other rebuilding team, and we know that because they've made bolder sacrifices and endured scathing criticism in the short term to pursue success in the long run.
Here's hoping Hinkie's around to see a good plan work out.
The Clips Are In Again...And Now We Wait
DeAndre Jordan swatted the Los Angeles Clippers into the playoffs, leading a rejection-heavy charge over the Denver Nuggets in a 105-90 win. He finished with 16 points, 16 rebounds and six blocks in just 29 minutes, and win No. 45 assured L.A. a postseason berth, per the team's official Twitter feed:
We're in. 👌 pic.twitter.com/SeiAJLfvSg— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) March 27, 2016
A playoff spot, of course, isn't enough for the Clippers. This is their fifth consecutive trip to the dance, which is significant for a franchise that spent decades as a laughingstock. But what Los Angeles needs now more than ever is a deep run that gets Chris Paul past the second round for the first time in his career.
Blake Griffin could probably help, and he was cleared to play Sunday. Once he completes his four-game suspension, he'll be eligible for game action, putting him on pace to return next Sunday against the Washington Wizards.
Barring the bizarre, the Clippers are locked into the No. 4 seed, so the next couple of weeks will be devoted to resting and tuning up. And if Griffin rounds into form, a likely first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies shouldn't be all that tough either. After that, things will get serious, and the future of the team's current core might depend on advancing to the Western Conference Finals.
The Clips are in, but the real work starts in about a month.
Sometimes, It's Just Not Your Night/Season
It wasn't for the Dallas Mavericks, who fell to the Kings in ominous 133-111 fashion.
Here's the game (and Dallas' recent skid) in microcosm:
Ignore Omri Casspi's obvious travel and focus instead on Justin Anderson's frantic, fruitless flailing. That's pretty much what the Mavs have been doing lately as the rest of the playoff race leaves them in the lurch. Losers in 10 of their last 12 games, the Mavericks now find themselves a half-game behind the Houston Rockets for eighth seed and a full game out of the No. 7 spot in the West.
This is a Mavs team that sat comfortably in fifth place when the calendar flipped to 2016, narrowly trailing the No. 4 Clippers. Since then, the Mavs have cratered. Done in by poor defense, Chandler Parsons' season-ending knee injury and an inconsistent bench, Dallas looks like a lottery team these days.
All head coach Rick Carlisle can offer these days are mostly empty platitudes, like this one via Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com:
Rick Carlisle: "We're going to find a way to get through this and do better, and that's the bottom line." #DALatSAC— Earl K. Sneed (@EarlKSneed) March 28, 2016
It's a shame, but we can't exactly call it a surprise. It seems like ancient history, but after losing DeAndre Jordan, tanking was a topic of discussion. And most preseason over-under lines had pegged Dallas in the range of 38-39 victories. With 35 logged so far, that projection looks to be about right.
Assuming the Mavericks don't engineer a turnaround, they'll enter this offseason disappointed but eying familiar goals. Free-agent splashes are always Dallas' aim, and it's hard to remember an offseason in which it needed a big name more than the one ahead.
It's Getting Clearer In the East
With the Indiana Pacers dodging bullets down the stretch to beat the Houston Rockets 104-101 Sunday, the fates of three other Eastern Conference squads were sealed.
The Pacers nearly coughed up what would have been their 20th loss when leading in the fourth quarter, as Tim Donahue of EightPointsNineSeconds.com tweeted midway through the final period, when things looked bleakest:
Tonight will probably be 20th time the Pacers have led in 4th & still lost. They'll wrest the NBA lead from DEN. Love the commitment.— Tim Donahue (@TimDonahue8p9s) March 27, 2016
The Rockets pulled ahead late, but Solomon Hill put together a handful of key two-way sequences, and Monta Ellis provided just enough late scoring to salt away the win. Per Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star, Hill closed the game in fitting fashion:
#Pacers win 104-101 and guess who secures the final defensive rebound? Solomon Hill. They don’t win without him.— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) March 28, 2016
It didn't hurt that Houston missed four decent looks from long range in the final minute, with the last one coming from Jason Terry at the buzzer. James Harden finished with 34 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
In addition to eliminating three teams, the Pacers earned a half-game cushion on the Detroit Pistons, who sit just below in eighth. Houston slipped to eighth in the West, while the idle Utah Jazz move into to seventh.
Next on the elimination chopping block: the New Orleans Pelicans. They're nine games out of the No. 8 spot with 10 to play.
Rest Up, John Wall
The Washington Wizards had it easy in a 101-88 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, building on a halftime lead in that same inexorable way so many opponents have at the Staples Center this year.
John Wall tallied 22 points, 13 assists and five rebounds in just 33 minutes before taking an extended break in the fourth quarter. While on the court, Wall smiled often, kept the dribble loose and generally played like someone who know he'd encounter little resistance.
In fact, most of the Wizards kept the tone light against L.A., per J. Michael of CSNMidAtlantic.com:
Wall and the Wizards won't have it so easy as they try to salvage things over the final two weeks of the regular season. Six of their final nine games come on the road, and five of them feature playoff-bound opponents. Sunday's win pushed the Lakers to within two-and-a-half games of the No. 8 Pistons, but with so little time left, that's a significant deficit.
It's hard to imagine a version of the Wizards' upcoming offseason that doesn't involve a coaching change and a significant personnel move or two—whether the team winds up in the postseason or the lottery. Still, a strong finish might give this particular core more ammo if it wants to make a case for staying together.
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Stats courtesy of NBA.com. Accurate through games played March 27.