I've got good news and bad news. In the great tradition of this blog's name, I'll start with the bad. The Sixers are 2-6 since the break. Over that stretch they lost 2 games to teams they clearly should've beaten, they let a game slip away to a team they're chasing in the standings and they let Orlando come back from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter. They've fallen all the way from tied for the #5 seed, to all alone at #7 with a slim 2.5 game lead over the #8 seed. In fact, they're now closer to being out of the playoffs than the #4 seed. If you've given up on this team, just stop reading now. If you haven't, the good news is after the jump.
The good news: A streak is coming, and not the bad kind either.
Let me take a step back first. Earlier today, I took a look around the other Sixers blogs and two posts caught my eye. First, Dannie from Recliner GM asked his readers if they even care about the Sixers at this point. Next, Jordan from Liberty Ballers laid out his plan for this summer. Both are solid posts, and raise valid questions, you should check them out if you haven't already. Both posts also bummed the hell out of me.
It's funny, I've been a Sixers' fan my whole life. I've watched some terrible basketball, I've watched some entertaining, but terrible, basketball. I've had my heart broken. I've wanted to break my TV. I also sat in the cheap seats in the Wach with my father a couple years before he died and watched Allen Iverson electrify a sold-out house on his way to the finals. I also saw Dr. J and Charles Barkley share the court at the first basketball game I ever attended. The thing that's never changed is my desire to watch the games. I can't explain it. For a long stretch there, I guess a psychiatrist would tell you I was a text book masochist. The name of this blog is no accident. If you can bear it, dig through the archives for that first season right after Iverson was traded. It was a dire time to be a Sixers' fan, and it showed in my posts.
So after I read posts from two bloggers who I respect about basically looking forward, or not wanting to look at all, I was a bit taken aback. I think the reason why is very basic. I love watching this sport, I love watching the Sixers, and most importantly, more than any other Sixers team I can remember, this team is capable of exceptional things. I mean, exceptional.
Last year, the Celtics dominated the league. 66 wins and a title is a pretty special season. There was a stretch of the year, though, where the Sixers were the better team. With a couple of young players, an old, slow point guard and an iffy coach, the Sixers went on a 19-5 run over almost two months in which they beat both teams that would later meet in the Eastern Conference finals, on the road. They pounded lesser opponents and took care of stalwarts like the San Antonio Spurs with ease. Every night you went into a game asking yourself, "There's no way they can do it again," and just about every night, they did.
I got spoiled, as did a lot of other Sixers fans. Some people will call it false hope. Some people will scoff and say it doesn't mean anything because they aren't "title contenders," others will tell you it was a fluke. I say B.S. The Sixers team we watched from Feb. 5th to March 26th last season was not smoke and mirrors. They were the embodiment of what team sports is supposed to be all about. The whole was greater than the sum of its parts. They used a team-first attitude, hustle and an exceptional style that accentuated the strengths of their young roster to beat better teams night in and night out.
That team would limp to the finish line with a 3-7 record, then dig deeper and push the Detroit Pistons, a playoff-hardened team, to the brink of a 3-1 deficit before succumbing to the superior team in a first-round playoff series.
Here's the thing. This Sixers team is not perfect. We're all well-aware of their warts. They aren't a title contender on most nights, not with the active roster they have right now, and probably not even if they had a healthy Elton Brand on the floor. They are streaky. They lost some games they should've won, they won some they should've lost. As far as I'm concerned, you can focus on the bad streaks, like the 2-6 stretch they're currently mired in, or you can focus on the good streaks, like the 14-4 streak prior to the All Star break. Personally, I'm always looking forward to that winning streak, you know, like the one that's going to start tomorrow night.
It's a familiar feeling. The Sixers beat a couple of teams they're supposed to beat, you start feeling guardedly optimistic, then they beat a playoff team and you begin to let yourself beilieve, then they beat a couple more playoff teams and you forget what you were so depressed about during the bad streak altogether.
So to answer the question no one really asked me, I'm going to be in front of my TV tomorrow night to see the Sixers take on the Grizzlies, and I'll be watching the 22 games after that as well. Why? Because I can. Because I go into every game knowing that somewhere on this roster is that team that dominated the league for over a quarter of the season last year, and did it again for an 18-game stretch this season. Because, to be honest, if that team shows up for a playoff series, someone is going to have an early start to their summer vacation, and it isn't going to be the Sixers.
When the games are over I'm always the first one to point out what the team did wrong, what they need to improve upon, but for those 48 minutes, I guess you could call me a blind optimist, and you know what, in this case I'm kind of proud to be one.
Finally, let's get back to the good news I started talking about at the beginning of this post.
Starting tomorrow night, the Sixers play 4 straight games against teams with losing records: @ Memphis, @ OKC, vs Toronto, vs. Chicago. Then, in the fifth game, they play the Miami Heat, at home.
Over the same stretch, Miami plays @ Toronto, @ Cleveland, vs. Chicago, vs. Boston and vs. Utah before flying to Philly to play the Sixers on the second night of a back-to-back (the Sixers have the previous day off).
Put simply, the Sixers can, and should, win the next five games and on St. Patrick's day, they should be all alone in the #5 spot in the Eastern Conference.0
Feel free to bring me back down to Earth in the comments,