The Philadelphia 76ers have looked pretty bad in recent days and weeks. However, Sixers fans like myself can still see a clear path to an Atlantic Division title and home court in the first round of the postseason. For all of their problems lately, the Sixers are still only a game behind of the Boston Celtics - and can actually be in first place before their showdown on April 8.
Even though their last game was a horrendous loss to the Toronto Raptors on April 4, the Sixers have a mathematical chance to lead the division again very shortly. They can do so by beating the reeling Orlando Magic on April 7 and by the Celtics losing to the red hot Indiana Pacers on the same night. Then Philadelphia and Boston would be tied again - with the Sixers holding the tiebreaker.
After that, the Sixers could then take the Atlantic Division lead by themselves by beating those same Celtics in Boston the next night. But before looking ahead to that, Philadelphia has to take care of its own business by keeping Orlando in a tail spin. Yet even if the Sixers can't do that, they could be bailed out again by the Celtics' own struggles with tough opponents.
Boston should have started to build a cushion by now, but tough losses to the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls on April 4 and April 5 ruined that. The schedule isn't getting any easier for the Celtics, as they now must face a Pacers team that has won four in a row and just knocked off the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 6.
The Sixers themselves saw how good the Pacers have been, as Indiana couldn't miss a shot when it beat up Philadelphia on Mar. 14. The Pacers are sitting comfortably as the No. 3 seed in the East right now, as they look like a team more capable of taking the next step than the Sixers are. But for now, that might not be a bad thing.
Right after Philadelphia got throttled by Toronto, it seemed crazy to think that it could return to first place just 72 hours later. But if the Sixers finally wake up against the Magic and the Celtics continue to struggle against better teams, that improbable scenario will come true. Of course, it would all be erased if Philadelphia then got beaten by Boston anyway a night later.
The Sixers should have started to fade completely away, yet they have been given a gift this weekend. If they manage to accept it, then Philadelphia will actually be a first place team again - and even look like it - in just 24 or 48 hours.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan.
Other stories from this contributor