For nearly a decade, the Philadelphia 76ers have been practically irrelevant to the rest of the NBA. While teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs were building towards a potential dynasty, the Sixers were trying to find an identity and a way of climbing out of the basement.
Last season – with a new coach and new ownership taking over at the end of the season – the Sixers appeared to be heading in the right direction. Despite losing to the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs, things were looking good for one of the NBA’s most historic franchises – but no one expected the team to start the season this well.
The Sixers – who could barely give away tickets when the season began – improved to 18-7 after beating the Los Angeles Lakers Monday night in front of a sold out crowd shouting the classic chant “Beat L.A.!” In 16 home games this season, the Sixers are 13-3 and are one of the few remaining NBA teams that have not lost back-to-back games during this shortened season. Philadelphia came right out of the gate playing smart, fundamental basketball thanks to second year coach Doug Collins but both the local and national markets were paying little attention – but the team just continued to do its thing and win.
Week after week the Sixers were beating the teams that they were expected to beat and much of the talk surrounding the team was the fact that they had not yet played an elite NBA squad. As the team looked ahead of schedule, they knew the toughest stretch of games would come during a two-week stretch at the start of February. Though the Sixers were home for all but one of the seven games, coach Collins nicknamed the stint “Death Row” and so far Philadelphia has exceeded expectations.
The Sixers rattled off two wins against the Orlando Magic and the Chicago Bulls – two matchups in which Philadelphia was significantly favored. Then came the Miami Heat.
Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and the rest of the Heat have found the Sixers to be a scrappy opponent, dating back to last year’s playoff series. The Heat have had the Sixers’ number but the games have been close and the same could be said for the February 1 matchup at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Heading into the fourth quarter the Sixers trailed by just four but wound up losing 99-79 after a meltdown in the final 12 minutes.
“It doesn't frustrate us. We just have to keep playing hard and keep fighting, “ Sixer forward Thaddeus Young said after the loss.
All season the Sixers haven’t allowed a loss deter them mentally and have remained focused, leaving it behind them and focusing on their next opponent.
Since the loss – their second of the season to the Heat – the Sixers have put together impressive wins against the Atlanta Hawks and the Lakers, but there is no time to celebrate as the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers come to town before the end of the week. If the team can win just one of the next two games, it would give them a record of 5-2 against “Death Row” and prove to the league this team can hang with the powerhouses.
But the Sixers don’t have a Carmello Anthony, Dwight Howard, or Dirk Nowitzki-like superstar leading the team, which is a formula doomed for failure in today’s NBA. So are the Sixers legitimate contenders or just pretenders?
The Sixers lead the league in scoring differential this season, outscoring opponents by an average of just over 10 points-per-game. The reason for such a high differential is thanks to the fact that opponents are averaging 86.6 points-per-game against the Sixers, which is the best in the NBA.
Not bad for a team who finished last season at 41-41.
Are the Sixers a legitimate threat to win the NBA Championship this season? That is doubtful, especially as long as the Heat are around but they are on their way to bringing a NBA resurgence back to Philadelphia – something the NBA and the city of brotherly love are certainly happy to see.
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