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76ers Need Another First Place Salvaging Win Over Celtics: A Fan’s Preview
The Philadelphia 76ers are facing an unlikely showdown for the second time in over two weeks. On Mar. 7, Sixers fans like myself were worried that a bad slump would cost them first place, as the Boston Celtics could have tied them by winning in Philadelphia. Yet the Sixers destroyed the Celtics that night and seemed to right the ship, only to nearly lose it again.
Now once again, Boston is coming to Philadelphia on Mar. 23 with a chance to knock the Sixers out of first place. In fact, whereas the Celtics could have just tied them 16 days ago, they can actually take sole possession of the Atlantic Division lead if they get their revenge.
When the Sixers throttled the Celtics not long ago, they were revived when Evan Turner went into the starting lineup. After getting two straight wins days later, it looked like Philadelphia had retaken control of the Atlantic and wouldn't give it up again. In any case, Boston was old and inconsistent while the New York Knicks were finally dying off at the end of 'Linsanity.'
Yet a few weeks later, the Sixers are on a 1-4 slide while the Celtics have almost caught them again, and another Knicks hot streak has put them back in range too. But it is Boston that can soon catch Philadelphia, now that it is only a half-game behind for the division lead. Although Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears wrote on Mar. 22 that the Celtics' Big Four know they will likely "scatter" after the season, they could still go out with one more division crown anyway.
Boston has won the Atlantic every year since Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce came together. But this has looked like Philadelphia's division to lose since the start of the year - and it is indeed losing it. Now the Sixers are down to a 26-21 record and would sink all the way to the No. 7 playoff seed if they lost first place. Given that this would doom Philadelphia to another playoff series with the Miami Heat, it would be a nightmarish scenario.
The last time they came close to this problem, the Sixers sent a message to the Celtics and got some breathing room again. But with Turner struggling again and Doug Collins seemingly running out of tricks to shake things up, the rematch stands to be a little closer. Unfortunately, Philadelphia isn't as good at close games, as it showed when New York held it off on Mar. 21.
Even during the slumps over the last month, the Sixers could still count on being in first place and being in a division too weak to catch them. The Celtics and Knicks are still pretty weak half the time, although Boston is still right at Philadelphia's doorstep and New York isn't far off anymore. Now for the first time since the calendar turned to 2012, the Sixers' door could finally be kicked open if they don't wake up again.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan.
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