The 76ers are in the playoffs.
With tonight’s 115-90 win over the New Jersey Nets, the Sixers have clinched a playoff berth with exactly six games remaining in the NBA’s regular season schedule. Considering the Sixers are multiple games ahead of the New York Knicks and multiple games behind the Atlanta Hawks, it’s safe to assume they’ll end up with the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference. Their opponent, likely either the Miami Heat or the Boston Celtics, is yet to be determined.
Part of the interesting part of this game was the reaction from the Sixers. There wasn’t much celebration, which is a good sign. And there was much talk about ending this regular season quite well, something the 2008-09 team did not do.
“I think the biggest thing is for Elton and myself to really stay on the guys as far as having a purpose every night,” said swingman Andre Iguodala. “We got there, but we still have a purpose. We still have to go out there and play hard.”
And here’s what Lou Williams said: “The celebration is over. We’re excited to be back in the playoffs, but we’re a long way from being done. I think it’s important for us to continue to play and not get relaxed. It’s always hard to turn the machine on after you turn it off, so I hope the guys lock in for the last five or six, but it’s good to have that confirmation.”
This game started with a quartet of jumpers from Iguodala, which, if you’re anything like most Sixers fans, was actually kind of worrisome because you knew eventually there would be four missed jump shots to balance out the stat sheet. Iguodala is predictable in that way: he’ll keep taking them. But on this night, that 12-point explosion absolutely paved the way for an early lead, a big halftime lead, and eventually a runaway victory. The Sixers could have come out bland and passive, but instead came out prepared to win and prepared to solidify their playoff spot.
Now, with this whole playoff-berth thing behind them, the Sixers can start actively addressing more playoff questions (Doug Collins seemed reluctant to talk too much about the playoffs before the berth was secured – he’s superstitious like that). Now, there’s no superstition behind which he can hide.
Before Friday’s game, New Jersey coach Avery Johnson called Thaddeus Young the Sixers’ MVP. That’s a surprising choice. Here’s what Johnson said: “The way they play. They have that hybrid forward in Thaddeus Young. If he didn’t have the type of year he was having, I don’t’ think they would be a playoff team. I think he is kind of the MVP of the team because of the bind he puts you in. You go small on him he can post you up. You go big on him he can isolate you. He is a much-improved jump shooter and he is kind of a specialist.”
And here’s Young’s reaction: “He thought I was the MVP of this team? That’s huge. I thank him for that comment – that remark. It feels great that hard work is appreciated, but I think the whole team. As far as being MVP, it’s the whole team. We all put our parts into it, and we’re all having a very successful season.”
If you looked at the last two weeks of games, you could make a case for Young being the team’s MVP, but as for the entire season, that’s a bit of a stretch.
Here are a few observations from tonight’s game:
*LouWill must continue getting back on track. His numbers haven’t been terrible the last two games (and his numbers tonight were strong) but there’s something off about his offensive game. The Sixers rely on him so much to create offense in those moments when the sets stall. If he doesn’t get his confidence back to where it was (when he was making off-the-dribble three pointers going left), then the Sixers will be missing that go-to offensive option that often carries them at the end of the second and third quarters. It looked like Lou’s three pointer late in the third quarter, which boosted the Sixers’ lead to 83-59, might have been the shot to get him going again.
*We’ve said enough about Evan Turner in the last few weeks, but again tonight he didn’t play any meaningful minutes. Collins went repeatedly to Andres Nocioni. The two odd men out of the rotation right now? Turner and Marreese Speights. Both played in garbage time, but neither played when the lead was fewer than 30 points. We still think that Turner will get some minutes in these final six games. If it’s true what Collins and the coaches say – you learn more in a playoff series than you do the entire regular season – then it’s concerning that Turner wouldn’t be considered a worthwhile part of that learning curve, especially if you’re looking at the future.
You can check out the video of Collins, which should be embedded below.
Sixers fly tonight to Milwaukee where they’ll play the Bucks tomorrow night in the second game of a back-to-back. More tomorrow from Milwaukee.
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