The Philadelphia 76ers have a long way to go to make the playoffs and overtake the Milwaukee Bucks. While the Bucks aren’t too overwhelming for the Sixers to catch, they were four games ahead of them with the tiebreaker at hand going into the All-Star break. Therefore, the Sixers must take advantage of every opportunity to gain ground, and they have a good one on Feb. 20.
Philadelphia visits the Minnesota Timberwolves with a chance to close within three games of Milwaukee by winning. This was assured when the Bucks started their second half with a buzzer-beating overtime loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Feb. 19.
If Milwaukee had pulled the upset over Brooklyn and increased its lead over Philadelphia, the Sixers would be in really bad shape. With games against the Miami Heat, New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls in the last week of February, the Sixers could fall deeper and deeper behind the Bucks before too long.
As such, the Sixers need every possible lucky break and winnable game to stay within range of the Bucks going into March. The Nets gave them such a break by holding off the Bucks -- or rather, Joe Johnson did.
Johnson first made sure the Bucks didn’t win in regulation, by hitting a game-tying three pointer in the final seconds. For good measure, Johnson hit the winning shot at the buzzer in overtime as well. Brooklyn hadn’t beaten Milwaukee since it was the New Jersey Nets in 2009, but it chose a good time to break the streak.
Now it is up to the Sixers to take full advantage and seize a winnable game over the Timberwolves. They would still be three games back with the win, and could still fall further behind after their tough stretch ahead. Nevertheless, entering that stretch at three games behind is better than four or five games.
If the Sixers are going to make the playoffs, they will likely do it by the skin of their teeth. But if they wind up finishing one or two games back, or lose out on a tiebreaker to the Bucks, losing chances like this one will be a big reason why.