In this second half, teams will start place their serious bid as a contender or a pretender. The Sixers finished off the first half of the year on a positive note against the Houston Rockets and they seek to carry it into the second half.
Right now, the Sixers reside at the No. 7 seed, trailing the New York Knicks by just one game for the sixth slot.
The Sixers have proven they can compete with any team in the league. They have taken down the best team in the league right now, the San Antonio Spurs, and they have had a close game with just about every single top team.
They have shown that on any given night, any player can have a big game. The 76ers have established an identity this season and have became more serious about being a contender.
They aren’t exactly there just yet, but they are a player or two away.
6. New York Knicks: Fair
Head to Head: Sixers lead series 2-1
The news about Carmelo Anthony didn’t shock me because it was expected. However, it did crush my hopes of the Sixers overtaking the Knicks for the sixth seed (just when the chips were falling the right way for Philly).
Before Melo was on the Knicks, the Sixers could take them down. Now, I think the Sixers can still make it game (as they have against every team), but I’m not sure how many times they’d walk away with the “W.”
The new lineup for the Knicks is very versatile, and it’s not only because of Anthony, but for Chauncey Billups as well. Felton is having a better season than Billups, but Billups adds that three-point threat that spreads out the defense more.
Having said that, it will take some time for the Nuggets players to learn a new system and for players like Landry Fields to mesh with them.
The Knicks were already a solid team, but they were on a cold streak at the same time when the Sixers were on a hot streak.
If Anthony did not go to New York, the Sixers would have surpassed the Knicks. Now…I don’t see it happening.
5. Atlanta Hawks: Very Good
Head to Head: 1-2
Although they have a losing record against Atlanta, the Sixers match up very well against them because they are an undersized team.
The Sixers play well against undersized teams because Philadelphia does not have an everyday reliable center (sorry, Spencer Hawes).
The Hawks’ starting center is Al Horford, who is just 6’10”, which is not that tall for a center. When the Sixers play the Hawks, they are able to move Elton Brand to center and start someone like Thaddeus Young at the 4.
The Sixers play well when they don’t need to utilize a center because that is their main weakness.
In the three times they faced off against the Hawks this season, the Sixers’ two losses were within five points and their one win was by a margin of over 30 points. Granted, Horford was hurt, but still.
If I had to pick one team for the Sixers to play in the playoffs, it’d be the Hawks.
4. Chicago Bulls: Harder Than It Looks
Head to Head: 1-1
In my opinion, the Chicago Bulls have one of the best starting fives in the league and are highly underrated.
This season the Sixers have defeated the Bulls by six points…and lost a game by 45.
When Joakim Noah is healthy, it will draw a huge obstacle for the Sixers. Alongside Carlos Boozer, the duo is extremely hard to stop.
I don’t think that the Sixers will get blown out again, but they give a tough matchup. The Bulls have very good size and one of the best point guards in the league (MVP? I’d say so.).
The Bulls will be one of the more difficult teams that the Sixers may have to face and is a likely playoff series in the near future if they can surpass the Heat.
3. Orlando Magic: Not As Bad As It Seems
Head to Head: 1-2
Even though I stated earlier that Sixers play better against undersized teams, for some reason they like to play well against the Orlando Magic.
One of their losses against the Magic was a one-point loss in overtime (I think we all remember the four-point play that Jason Richardson had). If it wasn’t for a series of unfortunate events that happened late in the game, the Sixers could easily be 2-0 against the Magic this season.
If you look at it position by position, the Magic’s only big advantage is at center. Other than that, I’d take the Sixers at every other position (sorry Jameer, but I’m taking Holiday).
Basically, the Magic aren’t as good as they come out to be. If the Sixers find a way to shut down Dwight Howard, they can get by Orlando.
2. Miami Heat: Up for the Task
Head to Head: 0-2
If the regular season were to end right now, the Sixers would be looking at a first round series against Miami.
The Sixers faced off against the Heat in their first game of the season and only lost by 10 points (James Jones could not miss a three). In their second encounter, they only lost by nine.
I’m not saying the Heat will be easy to get by because they certainly will not. However, the Sixers have proved that they can stick with them and throughout the year the Heat have shown they are incompatible at times.
The Heat don’t have a great center and the Brand vs. Chris Bosh matchup is very close. Iguodala is no LeBron James, but he is a shutdown defender. Dwyane Wade will be the key focus for the defense.
This won’t be an easy matchup, but the Sixers are up to the challenge.
1. Boston Celtics: Biggest Challenge
Head to Head: 0-2
They may have lost two games to Boston, but both games were really close.
The first matchup was one point win by the Celtics, 102-101. The Sixers had an eight-point lead but blew it late in the fourth (let’s keep in mind it was the biggest lead of the night by either team).
In their second matchup the Sixers lost by just four points, 84-80. The Sixers had two chances to tie the game with less than a minute to go, but couldn’t finish.
In both games, the Sixers have almost overtaken the Celtics and each game Brand had a double-double.
Although they have been very close in games with the Celtics, they will be the toughest team to beat for the Sixers, and every team in the NBA for that matter.
Although the Sixers are a No. 7 seed and are two games below .500, the record is not what it shows.
The Sixers have lost 10 games within five points. No team is going to win every close game, so give or take three. Add seven wins and take away seven losses the Sixers’ record suddenly transforms into 34-22.
With that record, they would be tied with the Hawks for the No. 5 seed and one game behind the Magic for a No. 4 seed. This team is a lot better than what people think, which is also why they have at least a fair chance against every team in the league.
After an in-depth review of all the teams in front of the Sixers, the hardest matchup is the Celtics and the easiest is the Hawks.
Odds may be against the Sixers, but don’t be surprised if they find themselves in the second round of the playoffs and upsetting a top team.