The Sixers have a lot on the line tonight against the Nets when they make their final visit to Newark's Prudential Center.
Most notably, the Sixers can officially clinch a playoff spot with either a win over the Nets or a Milwaukee loss to the Raptors, which is scheduled to start at 8:00 Eastern time. The Sixers are three games up on Milwaukee with three to play. Since the season series is split 1-1 with one more game remaining, the tie breaker is still in doubt, and should the Sixers lose out and Milwaukee win their remaining three games, the Sixers can still be on the outside looking in for the playoffs.
With the way the Bucks are playing -- they had lost 5 of their previous 6 before beating New Jersey Saturday night -- that is a rather unlikely possibility.
The Knicks are only a half a game up on the Sixers, so playoff positioning is also largely in flux. Chicago is 2 games ahead of MIami with both having 2 games left, so the top 2 seeds are a virtual uncertainty. If the Sixers want to avoid the Heat, who they have lost all 4 games against by an average of over 13 points per game, they'll want to win as little as possible.
Finally, with a win the Sixers can clinch their first winning season since Jim O'Brien led the Sixers to a 43-39 record. Going uptown! Wait, no, that was two years ago. Passionate, intense, proud? Okay.
As for the matchup with the Nets, Sixers have strangely struggled against them this year, the most recent being a 89-95 home loss. Deron Williams (who has missed the last 3 games with a sore right calf) obviously had that huge 34 point/11 assist game against them earlier in the year, but Kris Humphries has been a consistent thorn in the Sixers side. Humphries is averaging 17 points and 14 rebounds per game, as the Sixers have failed to match his energy level. Since the last two times these teams met earlier this month, Gerald Wallace has returned to the lineup, averaging 19.5 points and 8 rebounds in his two games since returning.
Jrue Holiday has been playing much better of late, averaging 17.2 points per game and 5.8 assists per game on 54% from the field, 60% from three over his last 5 games. The Sixers overall are averaging 99.6 points per game on 46.8% from the field with a 108.4 offensive rating over their last 5 games, although their defense has still largely deserted them and they are turning the ball over significantly more than they had in the past, with a 12.7% turnover percentage over the last 5 games compared to 10.3% during the previous 58. That being said, 12.7% would still be good for the best mark in the league, so "significantly more" needs to be taken into context.
The Nets have been struggling of late, losing 4 in a row and 5 of their last 6 as they have gone up against some tougher competition of late without Williams. With little to play for and Williams likely to miss the game, if the Sixers show up and play even close to their ability they should win this one going away. It's still hard to predict which Sixers team will show up, but I'm feeling slightly more confident after the last two games than I had been in the past few weeks.
What outcome am I rooting for? My preference would be 1) miss the playoffs, 2) get the 8th seed, 3) get the 7th seed. As such, losing tonight keeps the best of both worlds. If they lose tonight and Milwaukee wins, missing the playoffs becomes viable if they can lose to the Bucks on Wednesday. Even if they don't, it will help them avoid the 7th seed. Losing tonight would appear to have little downside, in my world.
And, honestly, if a team loses to a Nets team with nothing to play for starting Sundiata Gaines and Jordan Williams, they should forfeit any playoff possibility by default.
Prediction: Sixers 103, Nets 95