76ers magic number: one

Doug Collins and the Sixers are one game away from clinching a playoff berth. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)

As Elton Brand said after tonight's 108-97 win over the Houston Rockets, the end of this season will be filled with three kinds of opponents: teams that need to win to make the playoffs, teams that need to win to improve their seeding, and teams that don't need to do anything but show up.

The Rockets were that first kind of team, desperate for a win to stay alive in the Western Conference playoff race. Although you couldn't convince the Sixers, who asserted they needed the win just as much as the Rockets. Tonight's game seemed like a take-it-or-leave-it kind of game for the Sixers. Meaning, you really couldn't make too much judgement if the Sixers didn't beat Houston tonight. The Rockets had been scoring all kinds of points, making a mad dash to pass the Memphis Grizzlies for that eighth spot in the Western Conference. Houston came in with a better record than the Sixers. But whatever this game looked like on the surface, it looked very different to the Sixers themselves.

"We needed it more than Houston, we needed it way more than Houston," said Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday. "I think our team really wants to be in the playoffs. I know I do. It’ll be my first time, just the atmosphere, everybody has been talking about it. I’m excited, I’m ready for it."

Seems like this focus came from coach Doug Collins, who said something similar after the game.

"I felt, I told our guys to me this game was just as important to us as to them," Collins said. "They’re trying to get in, we’re trying to keep moving up. I don’t want it to be where we have to look and see if someone helped us."

This is like a phenomenal feat of motivation by Collins. Everyone on this roster knows exactly how many games are left and exactly what the odds are the Sixers won't make the playoffs (like, below 1 percent, much, much below). The team beat the Bulls on Monday and, really, no one would have said much if they didn't beat the Rockets tonight, especially given the situation for each team and the Rockets in particular. How Collins has managed to keep this team chugging after the playoffs as if it's miles away is really quite something.

Sixers don't need anyone else's help to make the playoffs. They could have clinched tonight if the Cleveland Cavaliers had beaten the Charlotte Bobcats. Instead, it stands like this: if the Sixers beat the New Jersey Nets on Friday, they're in. Would have been nice for the Sixers to clinch before April, something they probably haven't done since the early 2000's, but that's just a little cosmetic detail in the grand scheme of this season. 

Collins said after tonight's game that power forward Elton Brand was "sick as a dog" which explains why he watched the game from the end of the bench. Thaddeus Young, who strained his groin against the Chicago Bulls, looked exactly like he did the first three quarters against Chicago -- awesome. He's been lightning quick to the rim since he and Lou Williams struggled against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday afternoon. Lou got himself mostly back on track (6 for 12 tonight), but there's still something shakey about his jumper right now.

Seems like we've all accepted that Marreese Speights isn't going to be much of a factor the rest of the season, or in the playoffs, but tonight's DNP for Evan Turner was a little surprising. Collins has said he wants to give Nocioni some minutes, even said he discussed using Nocioni in the playoffs with Rod Thorn and Ed Stefanski, but Nocioni really isn't doing anything more with the playing time than Turner would do. That's the impression I've had lately, anyway. Seems like it's six in one, half dozen in the other, so you'd think Turner would get those minutes. I'd be surprised if Turner doesn't get a few more chances over the next seven regular season games.

Sixers will practice tomorrow at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine before Friday's game against the Nets. If you want to follow on Twitter, you can do that here: Deep Sixer


Each week, Kate will check in from the road and answer fan questions about the Sixers. Click here to ask Kate a question or e-mail her at kfagan@phillynews.com.

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