Let me pose a question or two to fans of the Philadelphia 76ers:
Has the current three-game losing streak, including back-to-back losses versus the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks, got you down? Does Lou Williams' injury, and uncertainty over his return for the playoffs, find you in an inconsolable state?
(No, that state is not New Jersey.)
On the other hand, are you excited about the prospects of this young, exciting squad springing an upset over one of the NBA East powers?
As I see it, my task as a sports journalist (yes, even on Bleacher Report) is not to tell you what camp I'm in, or to provide a verbal shoulder for you to lean on. But in truth, I am a lifelong Sixers fan (although I rooted for Phoenix when they traded Charles Barkley), and a puzzled one at that.
Speaking of puzzles, the playoff puzzle in the Eastern Conference is starting to take shape, even if there may be a riddle or two to solve. More on that in a moment.
We know the eight teams that have qualified for the playoffs, and we also know (barring anything very freaky) that the Bulls, fresh off a 97-81 trouncing of the Boston Celtics last night, will have home court advantage over the No. 8 Indiana Pacers.
What has not been decided is who will occupy the No. 2 seed; the Celtics and the Miami Heat are currently deadlocked at 54-24, with a big showdown game to be played in Miami this Sunday.
The Sixers fell a half-game behind the suddenly streaking Knicks with New York's victory in Philadelphia Wednesday night. 10 days or so ago, you could not have convinced me that the Sixers would limp to the wire and that Amar'e, Melo and company would be capable of putting together a five-game win streak.
So, Sixers Fans, would you rather...play the Heat or the Celtics?
Philly can finish either No. 6 or No. 7, and either position will earn them the opportunity to knock off one of the two marquee teams in the conference. I say this with no disrespect to Chicago, who has earned the pole position; they just don't carry the sizzle that the Heat or the Celtics do.
It will be interesting to see if the Heat can finally defeat the Celtics. The Heat have won eight of their last 10, but their last game was a bad loss at home to the lowly Milwaukee Bucks.
The Celtics are struggling to find a groove, as their 5-5 record and convincing loss to the Bulls will aver.
So, who would the fan in me rather play?
The Celtics-Sixers was amazing in the Wilt versus Russell era and almost as hot during the Dr. J vs. Bird days. There's still some magic there, and the Sixers would have a puncher's chance to knock off what would be a heavily favored Beantown team.
LeBron James and Dwayne Wade were two of the three or four most popular players in the league, when they played in different cities. We know what has happened since James' infamous "Decision," with a pretty good third wheel named Chris Bosh absorbing some of the collateral vitriol.
The three, all things considered, have meshed pretty well in their first regular season together, but they are far from being the dominant power in the NBA. At least, so far.
Wade and James, by themselves or in tandem, are spectacular enough to carry their team to the finals, and to a championship, and Bosh is a very good, if not great, All-Star level player. It is just hard to see the two-and-a-half superstars getting enough from their supporting cast to win a title this year.
Okay, so who would the fan in me rather the Sixers play? The Heat.
Even without Kendrick Perkins and with Shaq injured, the Celtics still throw more able, big bodies at you, and their own (aging) Big Three knows how to win in the playoffs. They also show a greater overall commitment to defense, have the much better point guard in Rajon Rondo and Doc Rivers is an underrated asset on the bench.
Perhaps the Heat will come out of the East this year, but in this one man's opinion, it would be a little easier—if still a very tall task— for the Sixers to steal a series from them.
And, weird as it sounds, Sixers-Heat would generate more passion than Sixers-Celtics, at least this season.
What if Lou Williams' absence and the ultra-bright playoff lights bring out the beast that Sixers fans hope is lurking within rookie (and No. 2 overall draftee) Evan Turner? We've seen flashes of terrific play this season...is there more to be had this year?
Gold Notes: Awards and My All-NBA Team
This is probably worthy of its own column, but since I've been spending most of my time with the Phillies, I wanted to weigh in now, and quickly, on a couple of awards.
I would be shocked if Derrick Rose does not win the MVP award this year, and he has earned my mythical vote.
Coach of the Year? That should also stay in the Windy City, in recognition of Tom Thibodeau's superb job.
Part of me wants to share that with the often overlooked Greg Popovich. (If you don't know where he coaches, you're proving my point.) Having said this, Doug Collins has done a marvelous job for the Sixers, and Lionel Hollins must be doing something right in Memphis.
MY ALL-NBA TEAM
PG - Derrick Rose
SG - Kobe Bryant
C - Dwight Howard
F - Kevin Durant
F - LeBron James
I know that I went with two "small" forwards, but Durant and James are simply too good not to recognize. Rose and Howard are obvious choices this year, and I'm torn between Bryant and Wade at the "two."
Kobe and D-Wade have almost identical stats, and Wade is probably ahead in more categories. My sense is that Kobe is still the better defensive player, and he carries more of his team's offense on his shoulders. All that, plus my dime came up tails.
I'd love to continue with my second and third teams (yes, Wade is on my second team) but I'll hold this discussion on another very early morning.
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