This article was published in the Inquirer on January 1, 2001.
The 76ers officially ended 2000 as the best team in the NBA. After what took place over the last six days, it is plausible that they could end the season that way as well.
The Sacramento Kings might be the first to attest to that possibility, after the display both teams put on in an electrifying, nationally televised game at Arco Arena on Saturday night.
In the end, the Sixers blew a 17-point lead they had held at the beginning of the fourth quarter. They surrendered 33 points and six three-pointers to Predrag Stojakovic, then 29 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocked shots to Chris Webber, who was plagued by a stomach flu.
But that certainly shouldn't bother Sixers fans, considering the outcome.
What exactly can be said after "The Answer," Allen Iverson, put the nation on notice with a 46-point explosion on 18-for-36 shooting; when Aaron McKie registered the 18th triple-double in franchise history, recording 19 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds in the Sixers' 107-104 overtime victory; when the Sixers collectively snared a season high in rebounds, with a 57-39 advantage against a bigger, stronger and healthier Kings squad that had owned the best record in the league (20-7) before the game?
"Nothing at this moment," Sixers coach Larry Brown said, after the Sixers won games in Utah (without Iverson), Golden State, and then Sacramento. "To go 3-0 on this road trip, as banged up as we are, it's a miracle. "
Hyperbole aside, Brown isn't too far off, which is why the Sixers have solidified themselves as legitimate title contenders.
Brown didn't hesitate to point out the absence of point guard Eric Snow (right ankle), backup Craig "Speedy" Claxton (torn knee ligament), and reserve center Matt Geiger (sore right knee), along with the fact that Iverson (sore shoulder and hips), McKie (lower back stiffness and knee tendinitis), forward Tyrone Hill (right ankle bone bruise) and Theo Ratliff (vertigo) are ailing.
Yet, somehow, the Sixers came through.
McKie recorded the first triple-double of his career. Iverson's eruption and abuse of Jason Williams mesmerized a national audience. The ripple effect is that the Sixers (21-8), despite their injuries, have the best record in the NBA, the league's best road record (14-4), and an attitude of such confidence that they wear an indelible mark of championship intentions.
"If we don't feel that way, then we have no shot at winning the championship," Iverson said. "If we don't feel like we're the best team in the East, and the best team in the West, then we're not going to win a championship. You've got to feel it in your heart first, regardless of what's going on.
"If we didn't have the best record in the league, we would feel like we're the best team in the league. Other teams feel like that, and that's the way it goes. You never feel like anybody else is better than you, because once you play the game, the battle is already lost once you over-respect someone. "
This, from a depleted Sixers team. Imagine what will happen once it is healthy.