Even a shortened NBA season is long, so in the course of 66 games, many are running together. So it’s difficult in the first month to characterize something this early as a big game, but that’s how the 76ers approached Friday’s matchup with the Atlanta Hawks.
The Sixers looked like they were sleep-walking through the first half, but came on strong in the final two quarters to beat the Hawks, 90-76.
Afterwards, coach Doug Collins was talking as if the mindset was a must-win game, more so than most that take place on Jan. 20.
And one can see why.
The Sixers were coming off a 108-104 overtime loss at home to Denver on Wednesday. They play at Miami on Saturday.
Whether Dwyane Wade plays or not, and he is listed as day-to-day with a sprained right ankle, Miami will be expected to hold service on its home court.
The math is simple.
A two-game losing streak heading into Miami could easily turn into a three-game skid.
“You win this game,” Collins said of the Atlanta matchup. “You don’t lose two in a row at home.”
Then he outlined what lies ahead.
“Got to go to Miami in a back-to-back tomorrow night, which is going to ver very, very tough,” he said. “You come back home then for the next week.”
Actually, it’s longer than that.
After visiting Miami, the Sixers are home for seven consecutive games.
Collins didn’t want to enter a seven-game home stretch with a three-game losing streak.
That’s not to say he’s conceding tomorrow’s game to the Heat. Collins and the Sixers fully expect to win.
It’s just that nobody will be shocked if they don’t return with a W. Especially LeBron James.
The other reason the win was important was that the Sixers are now 11-4 but entered the game just 1-3 against teams with a winning record.
Beating an Atlanta team that is now 11-5, certainly helps the confidence.
“The main thing I learned tonight was we can play against tough teams,” said Andre Iguodala, who earned his 1,000th career steal. “They probably set the best screens I have seen so far this year, right up there with Utah.
Collins labeled this as one of the signature wins of the season. It’s just one of 66 games in the shortened still-long schedule, but even in January, this seemed like more than just a basic W.