Philadelphia 76ers: Can Andre Iguodala and Co. Catch the Atlanta Hawks?

Eric CaspersonCorrespondent IIMarch 28, 2011

MIAMI, FL - MARCH 25:  Guard Andr Iguodala #9  and Guard Elton Brand #42 of the Philadelphia Sixers argue with the referee against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on March 25, 2011 in Miami, Florida. The Heat defeated the Sixers 111-99. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Marc Serota/Getty Images

With only nine games left, the Philadelphia 76ers are 4.5 games back of the fifth place Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

This past week, the Sixers have had a chance to gain some ground on the slumping Hawks, who have gone just 6-8 in March. However, Philly has not taken advantage of Atlanta's recent struggles—they have played just .500 ball themselves in March.

The Sixers currently stand as the No. 6 seed in the East and would play the Miami Heat in the first round if the season ended today.

There will be a significant difference between the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds in the East. 

The Sixers' finish will determine whether or not they play Orlando or either Boston or Miami. The difference will be between the Sixers advancing to the second round or possibly getting swept in the first.

The Sixers have shown that they can play with the Magic and they still have one more game against them to prove it.

The big question though is: Can the Sixers catch the Hawks in the final two weeks of the regular season?

With both teams struggling, the door is open for either team. The Hawks control their own destiny to the No. 5 seed, but Philadelphia has a chance.

The Sixers have seemed to play well in spurts: One week, they beat Boson; another week, the Sixers could not even hold off teams like Milwaukee, Utah and Sacramento.

The problem with the Sixers lies with its late game struggles. Sixers fans have grown used to the fact that even with a five point lead and less than two minutes left, no game is safe for Philly until the clock hits double zeros.

The latest example comes from the Sixers' most recent game against Sacramento: Leading by five with two minutes left, the Sixers failed to hold on to their lead and ended up having to hit a last second three pointer in order to force overtime.

If the Sixers are going to catch the Hawks, they have to improve on their 3-8 record when the game is decided by three points or less.

In order to do so, they must play better in the fourth quarter.

The Sixers are ranked 21st in fourth quarter scoring. Their fourth quarter margin is currently -.1, but that number lies. How many times have we seen the Sixers blow a big third and fourth quarter lead?

Philadelphia enters the final nine games with six must-win games over teams with less than .500 records. They also are going to have to win another two over Chicago, Boston and Orlando in order to have a chance at catching the Hawks.

The Sixers are going to have to have one more two week run in order for them to catch the Hawks. It may be the difference between a first round exit and a Cinderella run.