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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sixers Edge Celtics, 95-90

Houston's winning streak, the exciting battle for MVP and the tight Western Conference playoff race have dominated NBA headlines recently, enabling the Philadelphia 76ers to fly under the radar--but the Sixers' 95-90 win over the Boston Celtics on Monday improved their March record to 10-2, including victories over Phoenix, San Antonio and Detroit. The Sixers currently own a 36-35 record and they have recovered impressively after starting the season 5-13. After a seven game losing streak to start off January dropped the Sixers to 14-24 it did not seem likely that they would make the playoffs even in the weak Eastern Conference but they currently own the sixth playoff berth and they are just one game behind the fifth place Toronto Raptors.

Andre Iguodala scored a game-high 28 points, including 10 straight points when the Sixers took over the game with a 19-0 fourth quarter run. He shot 10-17 from the field but just 8-15 from the free throw line, adding four rebounds, four assists and three steals. Andre Miller had 20 points, six assists and six rebounds. The Sixers have a young, athletic team and they outscored Boston 20-5 in fast break points.

Kevin Garnett led Boston with 18 points but he only had five rebounds as the Sixers enjoyed a 42-34 advantage in that department. Ray Allen (14 points, 1-8 shooting from three point range) and Paul Pierce (12 points, three rebounds) also had quiet games. This was the Celtics' first home game after their great 4-1 road trip, which included an impressive 3-0 tour of the "Texas Triangle." NBA lore says the first home game after a road trip can be tough, but Celtics announcer (and Hall of Fame forward) Tommy Heinsohn said that is "baloney." He attributed the loss to Boston trying out some different lineup combinations in an attempt to work the newly acquired Sam Cassell into the fold. Heinsohn said that this is dangerous because the Celtics could play the Sixers in the playoffs and you don't want to give a team confidence that they can beat you, especially on your home court. Cassell finished with five points and three assists in 19 minutes, shooting 2-6 from the field.

In the postgame show, we had the obligatory Andre "I don't know what the heck is going on" Aldridge moment when the perpetually confused NBA TV studio host asked 76er Thaddeus Young about his experiences playing high school basketball in Atlanta--which might be an interesting question except for the fact that Young played his high school basketball in Memphis, Tennessee, something that Aldridge would know if he looked in the NBA Register that is available free of charge to members of the media or if he read the game notes. Anybody can make a mistake but there is no excuse for repeatedly making simple, obvious errors. If you want to ask a player about his high school experiences and you don't know for sure where is he from then take 30 seconds to look it up. That is the thing that irritates me about Aldridge. He could have just stuck with straightforward questions about the game but he is always trying to prove how much extra information he knows and this usually backfires because he does not know what he is talking about. I wonder how Aldridge's co-host Billy King--who Aldridge called "Billy Knight" earlier this season--kept a straight face during that exchange; of course, King was the 76ers' GM who drafted Young.

Speaking of mistakes, it turns out that the oft-criticized King did not do such a bad job of building this Sixers team after all. Is it possible that a basketball lifer like King actually has a better idea how to run a team than ESPN's Bill Simmons, who said that King only got 35 cents on the dollar in the Allen Iverson-Andre Miller trade? Miller has turned out to be a steady veteran leader for the young Sixers; Iverson's Nuggets are on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture right now, though Dirk Nowitzki's injury may open a backdoor to the postseason for Denver. It must be bittersweet for King to watch others reap the rewards of the moves that he made when he ran the Sixers but during the postgame show he consistently took the high road, praising Coach Maurice Cheeks and the players for how well they have performed this season. The only subtle jab that King took at his vocal critics was when he said that some of the team's success this year stems from the way that the players and coaching staff ignored pleas from some fans that the 76ers should "tank" some games at the end of last season to try to get a better draft pick. King noted that you never want to create an environment where losing is acceptable; the effort to build a winning culture last season is paying off now and it certainly looks like the Sixers acted prematurely by canning King. Toronto Coach Sam Mitchell narrowly averted a similar fate to King's; critics--including Bill Simmons, who apparently really believes that he could run an NBA team better than people who have devoted their lives to the sport--sniped that he was the worst coach in the NBA when the Toronto Raptors struggled early in his tenure but management did not fire him and he went on to win the 2007 Coach of the Year Award.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:59 AM

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