Sixers looking forward to Heat of playoffs

THAD YOUNG was trying not to get ahead of things.

Last night, he was well aware that the Sixers were playing the Detroit Pistons in the season finale on Fan Appreciation Night at the Wells Fargo Center with a chance to get the franchise's first winning season since 2004-05.

"But everyone keeps asking us about the Miami Heat," Young said a little more than an hour before tip-off.

That was understandable.

The Sixers already knew that they would be opening the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Heat in Miami on Saturday.

The outcome against Detroit wasn't going to alter that.

Still, Young said beating the Pistons and getting a winning season was "very important. We get 42 and that means we've won a game and go into the playoffs with a little momentum."

And for a moment, when the Sixers took a lead in the fourth quarter, it looked like they were going to do just that.

But in the end, the Sixers, without the services of Andre Iguodala (right knee) and Lou Williams (right hamstring), didn't have enough to hold off even a struggling team like Detroit.

The Pistons won, 104-100. The Sixers finished 41-41.

Would 42 wins have been a big deal? Yeah, I think so.

I think that any time you play through a long season, you want to be recognized in the end as a winner.

Does 41 wins diminish what the Sixers have achieved this season? No, not really, especially when you understand that this team could've packed it in and headed straight back to the lottery when it started out 3-13.

"It was an end tonight to a very good regular season for our guys," said Sixers coach Doug Collins, who orchestrated a 14-game upswing in the Sixers' victory total from last season. "It's just a shame because we had put ourselves in a position to finish strong but when we lost [Williams and Iguodala] it really took a lot out of us.

"We just don't have enough to compensate for what those guys bring us."

That's about as simple an explanation as there is.

The Sixers got to where they were by doing it as a total team.

They didn't have a "Big Three" like the Miami Heat or Boston Celtics. They didn't have an MVP candidate like Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James or Kevin Durant.

They had a group of hard workers who pushed themselves to the limit every game with little margin for error.

Some games, like last night's, it didn't end up pretty.

But that's just the nature of the beast when you are rebuilding.

"You can't skip steps along the way," said Collins, who has been around enough rebuilding projects as a player and coach to know. "The only way you go from 27 wins to 50-something is if you get Tim Duncan or Larry Bird or David Robinson or Hakeem Olajuwon or somebody like that in the draft.

"You aren't going to make that big jump, especially if you look at how we made some trades so that our young guys would be able to play.

"We thought it was important that if we were going to build this team that we play these young guys and give them a season to get better.

"I hope as people look around at us they'll say, 'Wow, that team really did something,' instead of they lost three in a row at the end of the year.

"I'm not going to let that put a damper on us at all. I will not do that."

Again, I thought 42 would have been big, but it was not going to define the season for the Sixers.

And if they can get Iguodala and Williams back healthy and somehow regroup to push the Heat in this playoff series, then that last week of the season will really be irrelevant.

Nobody is giving the Sixers a chance of playing more than five games, if that, against Miami.

But this has been an entire season of surprises for the Sixers.

"I've got to keep their spirits up," Collins said of what he has to do going into Saturday's game. "I'd like to think they know that we have a chance to get our guys healthy and get back to the way we've played most of the year.

"The one thing I've always felt is that you either have confidence or you don't. I don't think anybody ever takes your confidence. I think you give it away.

"I think our guys are very confident."

We'll find out how much that matters starting Saturday.

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