76ers having trouble in big games

The 76ers have had their problems winning big games at home when they've been close. So when the Knicks jumped to a 9-0 lead in the first quarter and the Sixers missed their first dozen or so shots, you knew they were in trouble.

So on this night, though they battled back into the game throughout the second half, they showed again that they have trouble with these tight ones in big spots.

If the 76ers cough up this division title, they might look at Wednesday night's loss to the Knicks as the key game. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

There are just 19 games left now in this truncated season, and the Sixers, at 26-21, are now clinging to first place in the dreadful Atlantic Division. It's been their perch all season, but now the Celtics are finding a late kick, and the Knicks are now 5-0 with their new coach, Mike Woodson, and just a few games off the pace.

It's no longer follow the leader with Boston -- this division title is there to be had, the Sixers should expect they have every chance to get it. But to do that, they have to win games like tonight, when the Knicks brought it early and forced the Sixers to check their character.

It almost go out of hand fast, but the Sixers played tough D and recovered. They took their first lead late in the third, and they battled the Knicks for the W in the fourth -- but they just couldn't get it done. It's inevitable in a division like this that in order to win it, you have to win games like this.

The Sixers haven't been good at that overall this season, and tonight was another example of good effort, nice comeback, chances to win, but no dice. If they cough up this division title, they might look at Wednesday night's loss to the Knicks as the key game. 

This was never going to be a great division. Boston is down this season -- still good, but not the Celtics of the last several years that had a shot at the NBA title every time. Too many good players to tank, but not nearly enough depth to contend.

So the winner of the Atlantic was going to have to grind it out, all those Sixers double-digit home wins against the NBA's dregs early in the season notwithstanding.

You had to figure the Knicks would figure it out, or figure something out, at some point this year. And now that they have a new coach and a new offensive philosophy based on sharing, consider the Knicks tough to beat on most nights.

But like Boston, and like the Sixers, New York has its limitations. So we're left with a division that has no clear best team, but a valuable position in the playoffs to be had.

And to get it will take hard work, and winning close games in the head-to-head matchups. Like tonight at the Wells Fargo Center.

Next comes Boston here on Friday. The Knicks come back to Philly in April, and the Sixers visit Boston twice in the last month. It will surely be games like tonight that will be the difference.