Thirteen games in twenty-two days. That's the reality of the situation for the Sixers. A break-neck sprint to the finish line of the first season. Seven at home, six on the road. So, how do you guys view this brutal stretch of schedule to end the season: yet another example of how the league has screwed the Sixers with their schedule, or an opportunity?
Personally, I think it's both. The Sixers have endured a murderous schedule the entire season. So many back-to-backs. So many unfavorable matchups in unbalanced circumstances. At every turn, they were up against a wall. I don't really understand why, I mean, the Sixers were an up-and-coming team last season. They made the playoffs, they spent money in the offseason, the city was beginning to get energized. Anyway, that's a conversation for another day. Right now, I want to make the case that this final stretch is a great opportunity.
Prior to the All Star break, the Sixers ran off 14 wins in 18 games, and they were playing their best ball of the season. Then came the break and there went the momentum. They played their worst ball of the season after the long layoff. The same thing happened to them immediately after the A.S. break last year. Then, in early March, they had another long stretch of inactivity. They came out of that with a nail-biting win over Memphis, followed by their worst game of the season.
Days off don't seem to help this team, in fact, the opposite is usually true. They're at their best when they're in rhythm, playing every other day. They feed off each other's energy, they find their shots, they tighten up their rotations. Wins build on wins. Momentum builds and builds and builds until they go from playing pretty good basketball to believing, with absolute certainty, that they can beat any team in this league. That's the beauty of this young roster. When things start going well, they forget all about the hard times and they believe.
I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to these 13 games. I won't call them the final 13 because they aren't. They're a prelude. They're a runway. These games are all about setting this team up for the real games. The playoffs.
There are many questions left to be answered, foremost among them is playoff seeding. Miami has given the Sixers no reason to give up hope for the fifth seed, and it seems like Detroit is satisfied to bow out and back into the playoffs, possibly with the 8th and final seed. It's a two-team race at this point. If the Sixers can avoid tonight's trap game and keep this positive momentum going, they could easily win 10 of their final 13 games. That would give them 46 wins, pretty much assure them of the #5 seed and a matchup with the Hawks in the first round.
Unfortunately, the other questions left to be answered aren't so much fun. Will the heavy minutes the Andres have played catch up to them over this grueling stretch? Iguodala has played 40+ minutes in 13 of the last 16 games. Miller's still hobbled a little bit by that calf problem, and he's logged 35+ minutes in 10 of 15. Can Thad continue to carry the offense for stretches when one or both Andres are on the bench? Can Lou Williams keep his head screwed on straight for another 13 games?
I think tonight's game will go a long way toward answering these questions. If the Sixers can handle an under-manned Minnesota team with relative ease, everything should fall in place. They play 8 of their next 9 games against teams with sub-.500 records. Their only game against a winning team is at home (vs. Atlanta). If they can find a way to avoid their constently mediocre play against lesser teams, they could put together a monster winning streak right now and head into the toughest stretch of their remaining schedule with a massive head of steam.
It all starts tonight at 7 p.m. against the T-Wolves.