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Archive for Friday, March 9, 2007

Sixers making push for playoffs

Turnaround puts Philadelphia in contention

March 9, 2007

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— Joe Smith knows all about the thrill of the No. 1 pick. He was one himself, after all.

Here's something else about No. 1s he wants all those Philadelphia 76ers fans to know: The Sixers don't intend to select No. 1, No. 2 or any other position available in the draft lottery.

Faint as its chances still are, Philadelphia is aiming for the postseason.

"We never thought we were out of it," said Smith, the 1995 No. 1 overall pick. "We kind of felt that if we could get a nice run together that we could always put ourselves back in it."

Playing bad basketball, mired in last place, the franchise player gone, Philadelphia's season was as empty as the seats at the Wachovia Center. About the only part of the season anyone was looking forward to was the end of it - when three first-round draft picks possibly would energize the sinking organization and its disgruntled fan base.

"There came a point when I didn't know when we'd win again," said forward Steven Hunter.

Now look at the Sixers.

They'll take a season-high five-game winning streak into tonight's game against the Lakers, the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference, and have won six straight at home.

Playoffs? Don't laugh. The Sixers aren't.

"We're not in this business to go out there and lose games," Smith said.

The Sixers (23-38) are in 11th place in the 15-team East, but just five games behind Orlando for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Sixers were off and the Magic hosted the Bulls. Not bad for a team that was 11-30 on Jan. 21.

The Sixers are streaking while the teams in front of them have hit the skids. The Magic and seventh-place Indiana were 3-7 in their last 10 entering Thursday night, while the Pacers have lost seven straight. The ninth-place Nets are on a three-game losing streak and the 10th-place Knicks are 5-5 in their last 10 games.

Plus, no team at the bottom of the playoff pack has shown much potential for a long winning streak. Then again, neither did the Sixers, though there's still a ton of ground to make up in only 21 games.

"The way we've won some games is a result of guys trying to do things right while we were going through hard times and it's paying off now," said coach Maurice Cheeks.

Some fickle fans, however, would rather have a high lottery pick and take a franchise-changing prospect such as Ohio State's Greg Oden or Texas' Kevin Durant than suffer through, say, a first-round sweep against Detroit and middling picks.

Smith was bugged at the airport this week by a fan who wanted to know why the Sixers couldn't lose more. Smith told him because the team only plays to win and reach the postseason.

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