The Philadelphia 76ers not only have to catch the Boston Celtics, they have to hold off the New York Knicks while they are at it. As such, while Sixers fans like myself were happy to gain a half-game on the Celtics during an off night on April 5, we were less happy to see the Knicks gain on us in the meantime. What's more, New York did this by getting a win virtually gift wrapped to them by a dysfunctional opponent.
The Knicks have often looked like the most dysfunctional team in the East this season. But the Orlando Magic are holding that position right now, especially when coach Stan Van Gundy told the press on April 5 that Dwight Howard asked for his firing after all. While that fired up gossip all day, the Magic then came out flat all night and let the Knicks take advantage for a 96-80 victory.
The win put New York just 1 1/2 games behind Philadelphia for second place in the Atlantic Division. As such, the timing of the Magic's latest implosion didn't work too well for the Sixers - at least on this night. But it could work much, much better for the Sixers on April 7, since they host the Magic in the midst of their five-game losing streak and their Howard/Van Gundy problems.
While Philadelphia has gone downhill lately, at least it doesn't have a soap opera like the one Howard and Van Gundy are starring in. Of course, the Sixers don't look 100 percent better off the court, given Andre Iguodala's recent attack in Sports Illustrated about Lou Williams' defense. But their personal battles are nothing compared to the ones in Orlando - both in star power and in content.
The power struggle between these two leaders - and the public airing of it - has deeply affected the Magic on the court. They have now lost five games in a row, and are in bad enough shape for anyone to take advantage of. The Knicks easily took advantage and gained some ground in the Atlantic Division race as a result, to the disappointment of the Celtics and Sixers.
Now the Sixers want to take advantage for themselves when they face Orlando next. However, it may be their own rotten luck to give the Magic new life, unlike the luckier Knicks. New York has faced dysfunction all season and has still survived to get back over .500, whereas both Orlando and Philadelphia are fading back due to their issues.
One break or two could make the difference in the Atlantic three-team race. The Knicks got a pretty good break to face the Magic when they did - but hopefully they won't have as much luck against more stable teams. At the least, the Sixers and Celtics hope not, since they're having a hard enough time fighting each other for the division lead.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan.
Other stories from this contributor
- Orlando Magic
- New York
- Boston Celtics
- Stan Van Gundy
- Dwight Howard