Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Frequently Asked Questions: Sixers Playoff Preview

That definitely didn't end well. From what seemed like it would be a season that could end with 45+ wins as recently as three weeks ago, the Sixers limped to the finish and ended with the definition of mediocrity, 41-41. Part of that had to do with the mounting injuries (Andre Iguodala’s knee and Lou Williams’ hamstring) and part if it had to do with bad basketball, especially on the defensive end (in the first quarter against Orlando Monday night, the defense was so bad the Magic could have intentionally attempted to get contested shots and ended up with a wide-open three).

But a shaky finish does nothing to diminish what was a fantastic rebirth. The Sixers got back to playing basketball, not the horrid permutation they displayed when Eddie Jordan was coaching. It was the true epitome of team play, with no single player averaging more than 15.1 ppg. They raised their play on defense, centered around Iguodala’s growth into a top-3 perimeter defender, to become a top-10 defensive team. The team recovered from a dreadful 2009-10 to become a fun and enjoyable team to watch this season.

But the warm and fuzzy feelings go out the door when the playoffs roll around, especially when the most overhyped 58 win team in history (they had a whole website, with three quality writers, following their every move. And they don’t even have fans who care about the team! The injustices of the world) waiting for you in the second round. And, of course, there’s nothing better for looking back on a good season and prepare you for the intensity of the playoffs than my favorite gimmick, the Frequently Asked Questions.

Was it a mistake for the Sixers to make the playoffs?
Thaddeus Young is the most important Sixers player in
the series against Miami.
Conventional NBA wisdom states that a team like the Sixers, without an established star and in a bad cap situation, can’t get stuck in the cycle of mediocrity: continuing to make the playoffs as a lower seed, taking a beating in the first round, getting a middling draft pick that only helps to maintain the current mediocrity instead of improve it, leaving you to repeat the same cycle all over again. What you need to do, convention holds, is completely bottom out, hope for a top-3 draft pick, and hope that the draft has the franchise savior in it (the Howard, Rose, Durant type). Otherwise, you’ll never make it to a level where you can compete for championships, because you’ll never have a superstar and without a superstar, you don’t stand a chance in the NBA’s star-driven system.

That ‘wisdom’ is directed at teams exactly like the Sixers: they have no star, they have no cap space and they have no chance of winning the championship this year. By that standard, making the playoffs really isn’t going to help the team in the long run, right?

But what that wisdom doesn’t account for is the experience that being in the playoffs brings. Do you think Derrick Rose benefited from battling Boston and LeBron’s Cavs in two consecutive first rounds? Locking heads with great teams is the best way to get the players you have playing better. They experience real NBA basketball, contrary to what you believe happens in the regular season. In the playoffs, the intensity rises, the pressure grows and players fight and claw for everything. Nothing is easy.