Inside the Sixers: Sixers playing like they did early in season

Posted: April 24, 2012

NEWARK, N.J. - Over the weekend, 76ers coach Doug Collins had visions of his team making a pleasant trip up the New Jersey Turnpike - if such a thing can be done - settling into the team hotel on Sunday, then showing up Monday night and not engaging in any of the sappiness that was to transpire at the Prudential Center, where the New Jersey Nets were playing their last game of the season.

As he said Sunday afternoon, "We don't want to feel pressure; we want to apply pressure. Let's apply the pressure and get back on the bus and start thinking about what we have in front of them."

After making almost 54 percent of their shots and getting some clutch play out of Andre Iguodala (who left the game late with a bruised calf), Thaddeus Young, Elton Brand, and just about everybody else who played in a 105-87 win over the Nets, the Sixers did just that. Along the way, they guaranteed a return trip to the playoffs, in which they will face either Chicago or Miami.

They played the type of basketball - albeit against a bad opponent - that was reminiscent of the way they had played earlier in the season, not the way they had looked for most of their games after the all-star break.

As a result, it doesn't matter that the Milwaukee Bucks rallied to defeat Toronto. The Bucks, who began the night hoping they had a chance to bump the Sixers out of the playoffs - especially with a home game against the Sixers on Wednesday - are headed to the lottery.

The Sixers probably will rest Iguodala and Brand on Wednesday and maybe even on Thursday for the season finale at Detroit. They are not just an exercise for all parties involved save the Sixers, who, despite the ups and downs of this season, have a playoff series to prepare for.

The Sixers' overtime victory against Indiana on Saturday gave the team back-to-back road victories for just the second time since Feb. 13. In ending the Pacers' seven-game winning streak, the Sixers earned their first victory of the season in a game decided by three or fewer points.

Collins' opinion about whatever was left of the season after that 109-106 victory was that watching the scoreboard to see what the Bucks did was more of a detriment than a benefit, and he was right. That is how the Sixers have been playing so many games of late, not handling their end of the deal and as a result finding themselves at the mercy of what happened in another game.

Conversely, for the Nets, the game marked the final game the franchise will play in the state of New Jersey, ending a 35-year history in the Garden State that never produced a championship. The building was full of former Nets, including some former Sixers such as Darryl Dawkins and Derrick Coleman, and even Sixers general manager Rod Thorn, the man credited for building a pair of Eastern Conference champions here.

However, this game was really more about the fans of the team than it was about former or present players. Nets coach Avery Johnson could have morphed into Knute Rockne in the moments before the tip, but the bottom line is that when the modern NBA team begins the night 20 games below .500 and just two games remain in a lost season, the minds of young millionaires tend to drift to more pleasurable endeavors than guarding the pick-and-roll.

Throw in the fact that the Nets were again without the services of their best player, soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Deron Williams, and it wasn't hard to envision the Nets packing their bags and heading for Jay-Z's neighborhood next fall.

But the Sixers never let the Nets touch their baggage. They took command from the start, rolled up their sleeves, and did what they were supposed to do.

They must have enjoyed the ride home.


Contact John N. Mitchell at jmitchell@philly.com.

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