The Philadelphia 76ers have a long, proud history.
They’ve been around since the NBA’s very first season, starting out as the Syracuse Nationals. Their resume includes three championships. The list of franchise greats runs from Dolph Schayes to Wilt Chamberlain, from Julius Erving to Allen Iverson.
They’ve never done anything like this.
As if to put an emphatic stamp on their staggering turnaround from a 10-72 debacle just two seasons ago , the Sixers set a team record with their 15th consecutive victory, holding off the Atlanta Hawks 121-113 on Tuesday night in the penultimate game of the regular season.
Coach Brett Brown marveled at the accomplishment.
“It’s not like we’re a young club,” he said. “We are an old club, with a tremendous amount of culture and a tremendous amount of history. Taking that type of momentum into the playoffs, it’s important. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but it certainly lets you feel like you’ve been doing the right things. The team has been fantastic.”
The Sixers can wrap up the third seed in the Eastern Conference with a home victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night, which could pay big dividends in the postseason.
Finishing No. 3 could possibly lead to a second-round meeting with the Boston Celtics, who have lost four of five and are limping into the playoffs without Kyrie Irving, who is out for the season. If the 76ers slip to fourth behind Cleveland in the East, they could get top-seeded Toronto in the second round, a potentially much tougher matchup considering the Raptors have won 25 of their last 31 games.
“We have a real opportunity that we don’t want to let slip,” Brown said. “We can control our own destiny. We’re not a prisoner to other people’s events. That, in and of itself, is rare and not to be taken for granted.”
Of course, the way the Sixers are playing , they have no reason to fear anyone. They’re the only team in the East hotter than the Raptors, having won 26 of their last 31 games.
What makes it even more amazing: Philadelphia kept right on winning after losing young All-Star Joel Embiid , who is expected to miss at least the first couple of weeks of the playoffs after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured orbital bone around his left eye.
He leads the team in scoring (22.9 points per game) and rebounding (11.0).
“The strength of this team is so deep,” Robert Covington said. “We’re doing it without Joel, so imagine once we get the head honcho back. He’s definitely going to be ecstatic. There wasn’t really much of a drop-off. We just played a little bit differently. We’ll be glad once he gets back. We just have to hold it down until he gets back.”
The Sixers showed off their depth against the Hawks — including a couple of guys who began the season in Atlanta. Ersan Ilyasova scored 26 points off the bench. Marco Belinelli added 20. Together, they hit nine 3-pointers.
JJ Redick led the way with 28 points, knocking down 6 of 9 beyond the arc . That allowed Philadelphia to extend its winning streak even on a day when rookie star Ben Simmons missed the morning shootaround because of a stomach bug, and looked a bit out of sorts during the game. He did finish with 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists before fouling out in the closing seconds.
Simmons can’t wait for the regular-season finale against the Bucks, a possible preview of the opening-round playoff series.
“It’s going to be a packed house against a great team in the East,” he said. “I think the way we’re playing right now, we have a little momentum.”
That’s a bit of an understatement.
For a few hours, at least, the Sixers could savor something this team has never done.
Win 15 games in a row.
“I think it’s very significant,” Redick said, “if you look at the history of the franchise.”
A franchise with a long, proud history just added another chapter.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry
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