'We know what we have to do." Sixers coach Doug Collins spoke those words following the team's recent win over the Cavaliers.
Collins was speaking about the season's stretch drive and how the team would be able to hold on to the Atlantic Division lead it's grasped most of this season. Winning the division is paramount, as it would guarantee a top-four seeding in the East. Not winning it would likely land the Sixers in the seventh or eighth spot and a first-round playoff date with Chicago or Miami.
So what must this team do in these final games to capture the Atlantic? Here's a look:
Sounds silly, but it is so true, especially for this team. Believe it or not, Chicago can cope without Derrick Rose, who has missed several games because of an assortment of injuries. New York loses Amare Stoudemire, but has Carmelo Anthony to pick up the slack.
The Sixers don't have the luxury of being able to get by without their full roster.
Spencer Hawes, who has missed 29 games this season, mostly because of a strained Achilles', is still limited to playing in 6-minute intervals, though he has been cleared now to play in back-to-back games. The Achilles' seems sound; now, it's Hawes' play that needs to round into shape. He is getting there, but his game is as much mental as physical. If he can sharpen his game and his mind at the same time and become the player he was at the beginning of the season, it will be the biggest plus for the team heading into the playoffs.
Andre Iguodala's tendinitis in his left knee is concerning. That Iguodala says he has dealt with this since college doesn't lessen the alarm. The Sixers need him and his 35-plus minutes if they are going to have any shot at clinching the Atlantic. His offensive versatility is matched by few on the team, and his defensive ability has many in the league saying he is an all-NBA defensive first-teamer. The knee could make Iguodala a game-time decision for the rest of the season.
Although he hasn't been officially declared injured, forward Thaddeus Young certainly seems to be battling serious fatigue. Offensively, it is easy to see, as he scored in double figures in only two of his previous seven games heading into Friday night's 97 -76 loss at Washington. Earlier in the season, Young was so good at taking charges on the defensive end, anticipating the offense's next move and getting to the spot to absorb an offensive foul. Now, though, Young is getting called for blocks on many of his attempts. His legs don't seem capable of getting him to the spot quick enough, a sure sign of fatigue.
Win a close game
This is something the team must learn to do, whether it's a player making a shot at the end of the game or the defense stopping a last-second shot. This team's inability to win a close game down the stretch falls somewhere in between physical and mental.
No, they don't have a proven go-to scorer, but seem to have several players willing to try. And if one of them, any of them, can convert once, it probably will give this team a confidence boost.
Believe in the system
There certainly has seemed to be some discontent of late, particularly through a stretch of losing 13 of 20. Perhaps better team play will erase what is a minor problem now. Winning usually cures a lot of ailments, but this warrants watching.
Get Turner righted
Is Evan Turner the player who exploded onto the scene when he became a starter, scoring 20-plus points a game and seemingly grabbing every defensive rebound there was? Or is he the player who more often than not now stands in a corner, waving his hands for the ball or not involving himself in the play at all?
Obviously, he is somewhere in between, and that's not a bad thing. It seems he could go for 12 points and eight rebounds just in the normal flow of a game. He must realize that's a good thing. More would be better, but not always necessary.
Get Vucevic righted
This team cannot go into the playoffs expecting Hawes to play 30 to 35 minutes. Some of the time, when Collins uses a small lineup, Elton Brand will play center, with Thaddeus Young at power forward. This isn't ideal. Nikola Vucevic must show the form he had at the beginning of the season, even if only for 10-minute spurts.