Two wins in a row against terrible, short-handed, tanking teams can apparently make a world of difference. The Sixers are back to four games over .500 and are both 3 games back of the Boston Celtics for Atlantic Division lead and 3 games up on the Milwaukee Bucks, who are currently on the outside looking in. The New York Knicks grinded a win out last night against the Bucks and have a 2-game lead on them, as well as the tiebreaker, for the 8th seed.
A reasonable assessment of New York's remaining schedule picks out four probable wins (Wizards, Nets, Cavs, Bobcats), three probable losses (Miami, Boston, the Clippers) and an in-the-air match-up (Hawks). Let's say the Knicks win that one and chalk rides in the other seven games. That puts the Knicks at 35 wins. The Bucks would need 36 to get in (ignoring the Sixers, for a second). That would require Milwaukee to run the table. So at this point, the Bucks need the Knicks' good opponents to play up to their talent and they need to beat every team in their path.
The Sixers have 8 games left and while it was previously impossible to predict how they'd play out, it's a bit clearer now that they're back to annihilating crappy teams. Here's how it looks now, with a 31-27 record:
- vs. Nets - W
- @ Magic - L
- vs. Pacers - W
- @ Cavaliers - Ehh
- @ Pacers - L
- @ Nets - W
- @ Bucks - L
- @ Pistons - W
The 3-4-5 games are back-to-back-to-back, so there is the potential that they lose all of them, but I'll chalk the home game against Indiana up as a win and the Cavs game can be a swing. At the very least, barring catastrophe, the Sixers will go 4-4 in the final 8, finishing 35-31 and making it virtually impossible for the Bucks to catch up with them, unless they run the table. Condolences to everyone on the tankwagon.
Always be wary of the bottom falling off again, but it seems like, with wins over the slumming teams, the Sixers have locked up a playoff spot. All that's left to see is how they manage to match themselves up with the Miami Heat.