How The Sixers Can Sneak Into The Playoffs

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Feb 27, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Robert Covington (white jacket) reacts with team mates after a score against the Washington Wizards during the second half at Wells Fargo Center. The 76ers defeated the Wizards 89-81. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers seem to be a long, long way from sniffing the entity that is the NBA playoffs. The Sixers go into the season as projected bottom feeders once again this year, and I even gave them a mere 27 wins and called it a stretch in my Sixers predictions post. So why even entertain the fact that this current Sixers roster can reach the promised land of the NBA playoffs? One reason to substantiate their case comes from their bitter Atlantic Division rivals, the Boston Celtics.

Specifically, the 2014-15 Celtics are a good reason why we shouldn’t totally shut down hope of a surprise playoff run. It is, of course difficult to predict the NBA’s “cinderella story”, and even more difficult to make the case for the league’s favorite public target for tanking, our beloved Sixers. However, no one in their right mind could honestly say that they knew the Celtics would end up playing in the post season.

The Celtics roster at the beginning of the year looked like this:

Although this team boasted solid veterans like Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger, and highly anticipated rookie guard Marcus Smart, no one really considered these Celtics as a playoff threat. The playoff hope continued to dwindle after the team traded Rondo to the Mavericks in mid-December. The Celtics were on course to miss the playoffs and join the Sixers at the bottom of the conference.

The team drudged along the first half of the season, but managed to go  20-31 before the all star break, and still sat just 1.5 games behind the 8th seed. The team was in a peculiar situation right before the trade deadline, debating on whether the team should continue to be torn down for a total rebuild, or trade for an impact player that could turn the season into a mild success.

The Celtics decided to go for the latter and trade for Suns’ guard Isaiah Thomas. Thomas had just joined the Suns and showed off impressive offensive skills by shooting 39.1% from behind the 3-pt line, scoring 29.6 pts per 100 possessions and racked up a 19.7 player efficiency rating (league average 15). Celtics deciding to acquire a spark-plug guard who isn’t considered a “star” could have been portrayed as the Celtics being overly optimistic. Here is the roster after the trades the team made:

The team added more depth, but in many ways were still not consistently considered in playoff talks. However the scrutinized pick up of Isaiah Thomas proved to be just what the doctor ordered. That, along with the inspired play of Marcus Smart and Evan Turner, (yeah that Evan Turner), propelled an amazing run into the playoffs.

Since the arrival of Thomas, the team’s scoring jumped up from 100.8 points per game up to 102.3. The defense, although more related to the pick up of other various role players, also saw an improvement by holding teams under 100 points per game. The team went a stunning 20-11 in the second half.

Acquiring Thomas was the most critical move the franchise made during the season, and one that propelled them to Cinderella status. The Celtics shocked the experts and took hold of the 7th seed only to fall to the title hungry Cavs. The Celtics saw themselves as a playoff team even when they were the team on the outside looking in. So why can’t the Sixers end up the same way?

Next: What Has To Happen For The Sixers?