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Philadelphia vs. Chicago: NBA Playoff Race Tightens as Sixers Shock Bulls

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 28: Thaddeus Young #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers drives between Taj Gibson #22 and C.J. Watson #32 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on March 28, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Matt GoldbergCorrespondent IMarch 29, 2011

Fresh off a disheartening home loss to the lowly Sacramento Kings, the Philadelphia 76ers had very little time to lick their wounds before traveling to Chicago and preparing to do battle with the best and hottest team in the NBA's Eastern Conference.

It should be noted that the Chicago Bulls had a few things going for them heading into the matchup. Fourteen straight victories at the United Air Center; a formidable 32-3 home record on the season.

When the two teams last tangled in Chicago, the Bulls nudged the Sixers—by 45 points!

The Bulls, who had Sunday off, came in with a two-game lead over the Boston Celtics and a three-game margin over the Miami Heat for the all-important No. 1 seed in the East.

Do I need to tell you how the game played out?

Thaddeus Young led a balanced Philadelphia attack, featuring six Sixers (sorry for the tongue-twister) in double figures, to a 97-85 victory.

Such are the vagaries of NBA life in the 82-game marathon that serves as the regular season.

The game featured some expected results: Leading MVP candidate Derrick Rose led the Chicago offense with 31 points (on 12-24 shooting), four rebounds, three steals and five assists.

It also featured the unexpected: Rose committed an inexplicable 10 turnovers, more than six above his per-game average.

Rose did earn points for being a stand-up guy after the game. In an AP story by Rick Gano, he took the blame.

“We came out sluggish. This one is definitely on me,” a disgusted Rose said. “Just me taking care of the ball and missing shots that I normally hit. ...Just careless, some of them was me driving and kicking the ball off my foot."

While Rose's leadership was admirable, some of the credit should also go to Rose's counterpart, Jrue Holliday, who is developing into a pretty fine two-way guard.

Of course, when defending an incandescent talent like Rose, all the Sixers' defenders played some part in inducing those 10 turnovers.

Philadelphia showed a lot of resiliency, both in rebounding from the loss to the Kings and in keeping their heads when Chicago sliced into their sizable lead.

The Sixers led by an improbable 27-13 score after the first quarter, which they extended to 53-37 at halftime.

But the Bulls did not win their last 13 at home—and 12 out of their last 13 overall—because they have no game or no heart.

By the end of the third quarter, the lead had all but evaporated: Philadelphia 69, Chicago 64.

But the Sixers, behind several big plays by Young and three consecutive field goals by center Spencer Hawes, were not to be denied this time.

Proud head coach Doug Collins put the big victory in some perspective. “The first time we walked into this building, we got beat by 45 points and now we’ve beaten them the last two times we’ve played them. This is the best team in the East, so our guys should know we should be capable of playing against anybody.”

On Monday evening, they showed they were.

Of course, just one game ago they proved capable of playing down to, and under, the level of much lesser competition.

Such is life in the NBA.

 

The Playoff Picture: Eastern Conference

With the victory, and a New York Knicks win over the Orlando Magic, the Sixers remain two games ahead of the Knicks for the No. 6 seed. Both teams have eight games remaining.

The Bulls are two games clear of both the Celtics (who lost to the Pacers) and the Heat (idle, but winners of eight of their last 10.)

Orlando, fighting injuries, appears to be locked in the No. 4 position, and the Atlanta Hawks have a four-game cushion over Philly for the fifth spot.

The Sixers could possibly move up to fifth (but if Atlanta splits their remaining eight games, the Sixers would have to win out just to tie them) or down to seventh. But does anybody expect the floundering Knicks to outplay the Sixers by two or more games down the stretch?

As the No. 6 seed, Philly would travel to either Boston or Miami for the first round.

Nobody said there was an easy path, but for a young team that started the season 3-13 any playoff scenario is appealing.

 

Gold Notes

The Philly media had some fun with Lou Williams' comments about his sluggish play versus Sacramento being somewhat attributed to his attendance at a Lil Wayne concert the night before the Sunday matinee.

Williams' only field goal was an incredible 32-footer that forced overtime; otherwise, he was 0-9 from the field. Against the Bulls, Williams was an icy 2-11.

Which begs the question:  Does "LW" stand for "Lou Williams," "Lil Wayne," (a) "little weak" or, one would hope, Lethal Weapon?

The last describes Williams' play for much of the year as one of the best sixth men in the league.

 

For more information on Matt Goldberg’s new books, other writings and public appearances, please e-mail matt@tipofthegoldberg.com or contact him via his Bleacher Report homepage.

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