In the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat and New York Knicks used their second games in the series to recover from befuddling losses to lower-seeded opponents in their respective series openers.
In the Western Conference, the Golden State Warriors have averaged over 110 points per game against the San Antonio Spurs, and the Memphis Grizzlies are still pinching themselves over Russell Westbrook’s absence from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But where are the 76ers? Why is Philadelphia’s fine basketball franchise not represented in this spring’s collection of the finest teams in the land?
It is quite befuddling because they seem to have followed this year’s playoff recipe.
For example, a key component to winning a first-round playoff series was having an All-Star on your roster. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and the like are still competing for the title. In fact, all eight teams remaining have an All-Star on their team.
The Sixers have one of those shiny All-Stars, too. His name is Jrue Holiday, and he is widely regarded as one of the hottest things in the field of point guard, a position that draws more scrutiny than anything in the NBA outside of the aforementioned James. Holiday was voted to his first career All-Star game this season; typically, that is a sure sign of a progressing talent level.
But the Sixers still missed the playoffs.
Philadelphia’s squad also matched teams from Indiana, Memphis and Chicago in a curious yet consistent facet of the game this season: finishing in the bottom five in the NBA in points per game. The old adage is that defense wins championships, and the Pacers, Grizzlies and Bulls are currently proving that the idea is not dead in modern basketball. They all ignored offense in lieu of defense, and all three teams have advanced to the second round.
But the Sixers still missed the playoffs.
If one had not checked in on the Sixers’ progress since the preseason, confusion would be natural. This team seems to have all the makings of a playoff team, but the Sixers were relegated to remain in Philadelphia while 16 other teams gallivanted off with the NBA’s bountiful supply of basketballs.
The missing link, it seems, is the peskiest topic in Philadelphia sports over the past seven months: Andrew Bynum. More precisely, that link comes in the form of a trade they executed to bring Bynum to the city.
Because if there is one thing that the Sixers lacked this year, it is players who have actually reached the playoffs in the past. That does not mean you would not recognize any of their former players in the postseason, though.
The name Andre Iguodala might ring a bell. Just last year, the once-beloved face of the franchise with the nickname “Iggy” hit the series-winning free throws in Game 6 against the Derrick Rose-less Bulls, sending the Sixers to a second-round matchup with the ageless Boston Celtics.
Iguodala almost willed the team to a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Heat, as the Sixers came up just short despite his team-leading 18 points in Game 7.
After the trade for Bynum sent Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets, Iguodala helped the offensive-minded team improve its defensive rank by six spots and earn the No. 3 seed in a top-heavy West.
Meanwhile, Bynum spent the regular season alternating outlandish hairstyles and reinjuring his knee while bowling. Because, as everybody knows, the best rehabilitation for a franchise cornerstone with a history of knee injuries is hitting the lanes for a few rounds of duckpin.
It is hard to sit at a computer, armed only with sarcastic statistics and retrospect, and say that the Sixers’ front office made the wrong decision by trading Iguodala to get Bynum. The potential for success when a center like Bynum is paired with a point guard like Holiday is almost limitless.
But if you were to rewind the franchise to those days before the trade went through and question Sixers general manager Tony DiLeo, some warning would be in order. Without the trade, the Sixers had a surefire playoff berth. With the trade, they had a coin flip chance of either competing for an NBA Championship or failing miserably.
The reality of the situation is that DiLeo made the trade. And the Sixers still missed the playoffs.