I was not at the Wachovia Center on Saturday night. I did not witness what was -- by all accounts -- a remarkable display of futility, ineptitude, or any other appropriate word describing the drought the 76ers endured/produced against the New Jersey Nets. I imagine we could ponder for paragraphs on what produced that stretch (heck, it's not like Friday night's win over the Washington Wizards lit the world on fire), but since I didn't watch it with my own eyes, I'll let those that did offer any lingering thoughts.
Let's look at how Saturday night impacts Tuesday night against the Boston Celtics.
I think with the way the Sixers had been playing for most of January, it was acceptable to point to the game against the Boston Celtics as a test of the Sixers' progress. They would have been above .500 (we're speaking as if they won that game against the Nets), coming off a seven-game win streak, with wins in 11 of 13 games. I think it would have been fair to look at the game against the Celtics as a legitimate litmus test. We watched them lose badly, in both their early-season games at Boston. But this would have been a middle-of-the-season game, with both the Sixers and Celtics playing what you would consider to be solid basketball. The Celtics had endured their rough patch after the sky-high winning streak. The Sixers would have endured that poor start and seemed to prove themselves as a much better team since.
Back to reality.
Now, with Saturday's loss, that's thrown out of whack. Now, what would a win over the Celtics prove? I think we're already aware the Sixers can compete with, and beat, the NBA's top teams (see that 20-point win over the San Antonio Spurs, wins over the Hawks, Rockets, Trailblazers, last-second losses to the Magic, to the Mavericks ...). What the Sixers still need to prove is that they can consistently win the games they should win.
Now, with Saturday's loss, the focus shifts from "Are the Sixers ready to compete with the Celtics?" to "Let's just get this ship righted." With what happened Saturday night, there has to be a knot in the stomach of most Sixers fans that the loss, coupled with a drubbing at the hands of the Celtics, could send this team into a spiral. I don't believe it will, but that's what makes Tuesday important.
Yeah, a win would be great and would go a long way towards healing the wound created by what was an awful, awful loss. But what was thrown into question Saturday can't be redeemed with one victory, but can only gradually be built back up, like they had done in the month of January.
In the Eastern Conference, the ability to consistently beat mediocre teams will get the Sixers into the playoffs. And the sporadic high-fivin' wins over the Magic, Celtics, etc. will make the Sixers the fifth seed instead of the sixth, or the sixth seed instead of the seventh. But if you're winning those sporadic games over good teams, but losing games to mediocre and bad teams, your win total isn't heading north as rapidly as it should if your goal is to make it into, and out of, the first round of the playoffs.