Sixers end with a whimper
This article was originally published in the Inquirer on April 19, 2001.
The 76ers, who have been anxious to get the regular season behind them, finally got their wish last night.
In a generally uninspiring duel of bench players and guys who should be bench players, the Chicago Bulls, the worst team in the NBA, pulled away to a 92-86 win over the Sixers at the First Union Center.
With that crashing conclusion, the Sixers still ended the regular season with an impressive 56 wins, the Atlantic Division championship, and home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.
What isn't known, however, is whether the Sixers will open the postseason as the team that sailed through most of the regular season or the one that was becalmed at the finish, winning just eight of the final 18 games.
"I think for the most part we accomplished our goals we set out to achieve," guard Aaron McKie said. "Now we have to start pushing forward to achieve our next goal, and that's getting to a championship and winning. "
Working toward that, coach Larry Brown had both Allen Iverson and Dikembe Mutombo in street clothes last night, trying to get them rested and healthy for the first-round playoff series against Indiana that begins at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the First Union Center.
He spread out the minutes among the roster, giving plenty of time to Jumaine Jones, Rodney Buford and Kevin Ollie, the players whose work on the practice court is not usually rewarded during the games. It was a game to be played and then forgotten - with one possible exception.
For Matt Geiger, this season began with arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and continued with one injury or ache or ailment after another plaguing his left and right knees. At the end, the Sixers have tried to play him consistently - at the expense of minutes for Todd MacCulloch - hoping to determine whether Geiger can be relied on in the playoffs.
Last night, Geiger went 37 minutes, playing the second of back-to-back games. He didn't shoot well, but did pull in nine rebounds. As usual, the game ended with Geiger something of a question mark.
"The season's behind me now," said Geiger, who has often been a target of the fans' disapproval.
"Whether I played well or just up-and-down doesn't matter now," Geiger said. "I'm ready for the new season and I'm going to start with a fresh state of mind. Mentally, you want to get prepared, but it's not easy. I do feel healthy enough to give the team a lift in the playoffs. "
That doesn't mean he feels fully healthy, however. On one possession last night, Geiger missed on a drive to the basket and grimaced as he turned to run back upcourt.
"That's usually an easy dunk," he said. "But I don't have the power in my knees right now. It's unfortunate, but I've got to do what I can. It's all about effort now. "
MacCulloch has taken his more limited role gracefully in the latter part of the season, but he exploded last night against the forgiving Chicago interior, scoring a career-high 21 points in 27 minutes.
"I understood that it was a waiting game for me," MacCulloch said. "It's important to have guys ready, but the coaches told me all along that there's no doubt about what I can do. It's just been a matter of timing while Matt has gotten ready."
Mutombo would have been placed on the injured list earlier this week, along with Iverson, but Brown wanted to assure the center of winning the NBA's rebounding title before giving him a rest.
Mutombo was being chased by Ben Wallace of the Detroit Pistons, with both players averaging more than 13 rebounds per game. Wallace had a chance to catch Mutombo but would have needed 40 rebounds on the road against the New York Knicks last night to grab the title. He got nine. Mutombo finished with an average of 13.5 rebounds per game.
The Sixers ended the regular season with the NBA scoring leader (31.1 points per game) and steals leader (2.51 per game) in Iverson, and the rebounding leader in Mutombo. If nothing else, it's been a great statistical season. Iverson also could become the team's first most valuable player since Moses Malone won the award in 1982-83, and McKie is a strong candidate to win the NBA's Sixth Man Award.
"I think Aaron's had a phenomenal year," Brown said.
"I've always felt he's as good as anybody in the league coming off the bench. He's every bit as important as the starters. "
Last night also marked the 82d game of the season for George Lynch, the only Sixers player to take part in every game this year.
"It says a lot about my off-season conditioning program," Lynch said. "I've been in the league eight years now, and to play all 82 as a starter means a lot to me. I hope it can continue. "
Last night marked a disappointing end to the season for Roshown McLeod, however. The 6-foot-8 forward, who came to the Sixers from Atlanta in the Mutombo trade, reaggravated a leg injury Tuesday night in Indianapolis and was not able to play last night.
"I need to find out what the situation is, and if I need a surgical procedure, I want to do that to get prepared for next season," McLeod said.