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Injuries Dampen Philadelphia 76ers’ Playoff Hopes

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | With news on Thursday, February 7, that guard Jason Richardson is having season-ending knee surgery, the Philadelphia 76ers were left reeling with three starters on the shelf, at least in the short term while forward Thaddeus Young and center Andrew Bynum both recover from injuries. The Sixers already are in ninth place as of Thursday, four games behind the Milwaukee Bucks, who are in eighth place, which is the final playoff spot. The Sixers' task to move up in the Eastern Conference standings won't be easy.

Health Concerns

First of all, they need to get healthy. Young was told on Feb. 5 to expect to be out three weeks, which means a possible return by Feb. 26 in a home game against the Orlando Magic. Bynum, the Sixers' biggest offseason acquisition, has yet to play for his new team because of bone bruises to both knees that have been slow to heal. Bynum has started to work out and do basketball activities, but has been unable to practice even 1-on-1. Despite this, Bynum has said he expects to return sometime in February.

Hopefully, that means both Young and Bynum will be able to suit up for the game at Chicago on Feb. 28. Of course, neither one should be expected to start or provide extended minutes initially, but their presence will provide much-needed depth.

Find Offense

Meanwhile, the Sixers still have to replace Richardson's production and still find more offense. He was averaging 10.5 points per game when he was able to play. Even with that production in 33 of their 48 games, the Sixers are 29th out of 30 teams in scoring average per game. That won't cut it for a playoff spot, even with the sixth best defense in the NBA.

The good news is that Nick Young has stepped it up since being inserted into the starting lineup in a win over the New York Knicks on Jan. 26. Nick Young is averaging 14.3 points per game since then after averaging 10.5 points per game on the season prior to the promotion.

Spencer Hawes also was promoted to starter against the Knicks and the Sixers are 5-2 since the lineup shakeup, although it should be noted that four of those wins came at home against the Washington Wizards, Sacramento Kings, the Magic and the Charlotte Bobcats. But, at least Hawes provides more offensive production than Lavoy Allen, the starter that was sent to the bench in favor of Hawes.

And don't expect the Sixers to do too much at the trade deadline. Coach Doug Collins told the Philadelphia Inquirer that any trades will have to help the team in the future, not just this season.

"If you are going to do something, you are going to have to do something that works," he said. "It's going to have to be something that is going to work into your future."

Road Woes

The Sixers also need to find a way to improve their play on the road. They are 6-15 away from Wells Fargo Center and must play 20 of their final 33 games on the road, including 12 of their final 16.

The good news is the Sixers play three of their next six at home while they wait for the return to health of Thaddeus Young and Bynum, so at least they (hopefully) will be healthy before they are forced to become Road Warriors.

The Sixers also have two games left (including one at home) with the Bucks, so they will have a couple chances at reducing the gap between them for the final playoff spot. However, the Bucks have won the first two games between the teams, so the Sixers must win the two remaining games to avoid the Bucks having the better head-to-head record for a possible tiebreaker scenario.

The Sixers only have one game left against the Boston Celtics, who are a half-game ahead of the Bucks but are dealing with the loss of Rajon Rondo to season-ending knee surgery. The Celtics are 6-0 since Rondo's injury, but it's difficult to imagine the Celtics not faltering as the season wears on, especially with aging stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce not getting any younger.

The Sixers are 2-1 against the Celtics and they play in Philadelphia on March 5. A win would give the Sixers the edge in a tiebreaker for a playoff spot.

As it is right now, the Sixers need to go 19-14 just to finish at .500, and that still may not be enough to make the playoffs since the Bucks are two games over .500. While a run at the playoffs isn't out of the question, the Sixers have a difficult task ahead of them.

The best-case scenario would be the Sixers being able to tread water or better until they get healthy and then finally being able to have their All-Star center in the lineup to give the team a shot in the arm it desperately needs. However, with so many uncertainties about the health of Bynum's knees and such a difficult schedule remaining, the best-case scenario seems unlikely.

Darin McGilvra has been a professional sportswriter since 1997 and has been a 76ers fan since the days of Dr. J and Moses Malone. He has been published in The Californian, a newspaper covering Riverside County, and multiple other newspapers and websites.

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