Sixers out to make most of final stretch

Sixers coach Doug Collins likes the way his team has been playing.
Sixers coach Doug Collins likes the way his team has been playing.
Posted: February 23, 2011

IT'S LIKE the elephant in the room, the car crash that always slows traffic.

The 76ers have 26 games left this season and coach Doug Collins and every one of his players will say they are looking at each game individually, starting with tonight's home contest against the Washington Wizards.

Players and coaches have certainly stared at the schedule, playing the win-lose-win-lose thing and tried to figure out where it may land them in the Eastern Conference at the end of the season.

The New York Knicks, who are just a couple of games ahead, sitting comfortably at the sixth spot, just made major roster moves (welcome to the East, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups). On the heels of the Sixers for the seventh spot are the Indiana Pacers, two games behind, and the Charlotte Hornets (three).

"We just want to keep what we've got going and keep going out there and winning ballgames," said forward Thaddeus Young after the Sixers practice yesterday morning at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. "This last 26 games, it's do-or-die. Everybody's fighting for a playoff spot, everybody's fighting to get better seeds.

"I just look at it as we have this game coming up, so let's go out there and get this game. My teammates and the coaches, we look at it game by game and just try to go out there and win each and every game."

Collins does take each game one at a time, but looking back on the season, there's certainly streaks that are defining to the season.

The team started 3-13 and has gone 24-16 (.600 winning percentage) since. An eight-game road trip in 17 days yielded a respectable 3-5 record, but it went through much of that without some key players (Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams). Then most recently, Collins targeted the last nine games before the All-Star break, a stretch that included six road games. The Sixers came out of that period with a 6-3 record and have now won 10 of their last 14.

So let's break down this final schedule:

* The Sixers will host seven of the next nine games. The two away games are at Cleveland and Indiana.

The home contests are sprinkled with some very winnable games (Washington, Detroit, Minnesota and Golden State) and three against quality opponents (Dallas, Oklahoma City, Boston).

Ideally, the Sixers would go 7-2 during this stretch. But that doesn't allow for a hiccup and assumes an upset over one of the better teams. The Mavericks will be playing the third of three straight road games when they visit on March 1.

Still, 7-2 seems a little far-fetched. Let's go with 6-3.

* Seven of their next nine after that will be on the road, but let's just break down the first five, all of which are away.

The night after the March 11 game against Boston, the Sixers will play in Milwaukee and then head out West for the second time this season for games with the Jazz, Clippers, Kings and Trail Blazers, the last two on back-to-back nights.

Going out West is always tough. This could be a disastrous stretch, but the Sixers should come out somewhat intact. Call it 2-3, though 1-4 is very possible.

* The next five will include three at home (Atlanta, Sacramento and Houston) with games at Miami and Chicago interspersed.

Atlanta is a team the Sixers match up well against, so we'll give them that one, and the other two home games. Miami and Chicago are both possible future first-round playoff opponents. Those two are losses. That's 3-2.

* The final seven games of the season come in a 13-day period, with five of them at the Wells Fargo Center. It's a very favorable stretch for the Sixers with the likes of New Jersey, Milwaukee, Toronto and Detroit among the opponents. The toughest part about it is there are two back-to-back equations, the tougher being at Boston on April 5, followed by a home game against the new-look Knicks the next night.

Unless they get a Boston team that is resting up for the playoffs, or an Orlando team that's set in its seeding, this looks like a 4-3 period.

So that's it. Over these last 26 the Sixers will post a 15-11 record to finish the season 42-40. Will it be good enough to overtake the Knicks for the sixth-seed, or will it land them the seventh spot and a probable first-round matchup with Boston or Miami?

"I just think we have to keep building on what we're doing," said Collins. "I love the personality of our guys now and I love where our team is. I think going through that [3-13 start], we don't want to go through that again. We don't want to go back to that place."

Stay tuned.

Carmelo talk

The trade that brings Carmelo Anthony, along with Chauncey Billups from Denver to the Knicks was all the talk yesterday. Certainly the deal has special interest to the Sixers as they chase New York in the Eastern standings.

"They just picked up one of the best players in the NBA," said Collins. "I've always felt that Carmelo is one of the toughest matchups in the NBA. If you put a small forward on him he's so big and strong. You put a bigger player on him and he's so quick. I think he's going to give them flexibility. They've definitely added talent to their team. They gave up some things but they get back one of the best players in the NBA. New York is going to be excited. They added another star to their franchise to go along with Amar'e [Stoudemire]. You've got 55 points in the bank before you start every game."

Said forward Thaddeus Young: "They're a good team now, they were a good team before. The East just got that much better now. It's definitely going to be a challenge, but we look forward to going out there to try to get more wins."

Trade talk

Tomorrow is the trade deadline and it appears the Sixers will do little if anything. With the collective bargaining agreement not in place for next season, there may be very little movement throughout the league.

As for the Sixers, "We've been working the phones talking to all the teams in the league. Deals have gone back and forth but I wouldn't say anything is imminent," said general manager Ed Stefanski.

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