It appeared the Philadelphia 76ers were heading toward another awful season the last time the New Jersey Nets were in town. About four months later, the 76ers can beat them to wrap up a postseason berth.
Philadelphia could punch its playoff ticket in front of the home crowd Friday night if it posts an eighth straight victory over the Nets.
After finishing 27-55 last season under coach Eddie Jordan - their worst record since 1996-97 - the 76ers dropped 13 of 16 to begin the Doug Collins era and were at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia, though, owns the East’s fourth-best record since that ugly start, a turnaround which began with a 102-86 home win over the Nets on Nov. 27.
“One step closer, 39 wins now, which is fabulous,” Collins said following Wednesday’s 108-97 victory over Houston.
The 76ers (39-36), sixth in the East and two games ahead of seventh-place New York, would like to reward their fans with the clinching victory Friday before playing two straight on the road beginning Saturday versus Milwaukee.
If ninth-place Charlotte loses at Orlando on Friday, Philadelphia would earn a playoff spot regardless of how its game against the Nets goes.
New Jersey (23-51), loser of eight of nine following a season-high five-game winning streak, has no such playoff hopes but will use its final eight games as a bridge to next season.
“It’s frustrating,” Deron Williams(notes) told the Nets’ official website following Wednesday’s 120-116 loss at New York. “But we had some good things come out of it. It’s all just a process for us. Everybody is being evaluated right now. Moving forward these are just good games to be a part of.”
Williams had 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in his return Wednesday after missing six games with a strained tendon in his right wrist. He’s averaging 15.6 points and 12.6 assists since being acquired from Utah on Feb. 23.
The two-time All-Star will likely be matched up with second-year point guard Jrue Holiday(notes), averaging team highs of 16.7 points and 9.7 assists in three victories against New Jersey this season. Holiday posted his first career triple-double with 11 points, 11 assists and 10 boards in a 106-92 win at New Jersey on Feb. 2.
He’s averaged 21.3 points and 8.3 assists over the last three games for the 76ers, who have eight players averaging between 7.0 and 14.7 points. Philadelphia’s bench is scoring a league-best 39.7 per game.
The 76ers are trying to sweep New Jersey for the second consecutive season after losing all four matchups in 2008-09.
The Nets have lost four straight overall, yielding 106.3 points per game.