Playoffs in doubt for sputtering Sixers


BOSTON -- Dont look now but the race to make the postseason is not a for sure thing.

The Sixers have 10 games remaining on the schedule. With the way Boston is playing and the Sixers trailing them by three games, winning the Atlantic Division is not mathematically impossible -- but it is highly unlikely.

New York has won two games in a row and overtaken the seventh seed -- despite an identical record as the Sixers, the Knicks own the tiebreaker having won two of their three encounters this year.

And while the Sixers are mired in a four-game losing streak, Milwaukee has won four games in a row to close within a game of the eighth seed. The Sixers play the Bucks in their next-to-last game of the year with the season series on the line, which could also serve as a playoff tiebreaker.

This sucks, but I wouldnt say discouraged, Jrue Holiday said. I think we are still trying to figure it out. I think every team has gone through a slump and we just happen to be going through it at the wrong time. Really we are just trying to fight through it. The only thing we can do is come together in some kind of way and figure something out.

The way we have been playing has been pretty stagnant and disconnected, I think. It is going to be hard. I hope out there people dont see that we are discouraged because we try our hardest to play together. We try our hardest to win and I do think the hustle is there, but sometimes we just cant score.

Were fighting for something else now, just to stay alive. We are fighters and we do have heart so we will see what happens.

Holidays candor is both appreciated and necessary: saying everything is OK would be clearly untrue.

What will become of this team and this season? It is a mystery, but if the final 10 games produce just a .500 record, this season is nowhere near the accomplishment of a year ago. That team pulled itself out of a 3-13 start to finish 38-28 in their final 66 games.

This team has done the opposite -- a fast start followed by a dismal stretch that is now two months long. By and large, the cast of characters are the same but the team has a different dynamic.

It is not the same team. Its the same players but not the same team because everyone changes over the course of a year, Doug Collins said, remembering a Coach K story where Duke returned the bulk of a roster that had won a championship. We have had some guys change in terms of their play, which has changed our team. I think we are still adjusting very much to that and that is what I am trying to get my hands on to try and make that better.

There was a striking difference on display at TD Garden Sunday. The Celtics are a group of veterans who completely understand what is necessary to produce the highest of results.

The Sixers, while they play as a unit, have players trying to prove just how good they are as individual talents.

That is not a knock, rather, a reality that, nine times out of 10, accompanies youth.

They Boston have a championship and playoff experience and they really understand their roles and that is somethingElton Brand said, tailing off before finishing his thought. Well, we are young. Im not young but theyre young. So we are working on that right now, but we just have to go play basketball.

Brand cited the play of Ray Allen, who has come off the bench the last two games -- despite his status as a 10-time All-Star and future Hall of Famer -- because it is beneficial to a team that some would argue can contend and come out of the East.

On Sunday, the contenders were in the home uniform, but who was wearing road red? Playoff capable guys or early-on over achievers who have fallen back to their reality?

Younger players are still carving their own niche as players and find out who they are, Collins said of the difference in an older roster and the one he is trying to develop. And as a coach piecing that together it is a very delicate thing. And the one thing about players today is that they are very sensitive -- theyre fragile. They didnt grow up with tough coaches. I had my ass kicked since I was six, but its a different time. So I treat this team very much with kit gloves.

There is no substitute for experience, but come Tuesday night the Sixers need to decide if they want to keep experiencing the carpet being pulled out from under them or say enough is enough.

Brand believes the latter will be the attitude.

New Jersey they want to play spoiler, Brand said. We lost to Toronto at home and now we go up there. Its not going to be easy. But we are going to find a way because in this locker room we have high character guys who want this.

Collins followed that up reminding that his teams next win will be the hardest one of the season.

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