PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Thaddeus Young scored 22 points, Elton Brand had 21 and the Philadelphia 76ers clinched a playoff spot with a 115-90 victory over the New Jersey Nets on Friday night.
Jrue Holiday scored 17 points and Andre Iguodala had 14 to lead the Sixers back to the postseason after a one-year absence. The Sixers won 27 games last season under Eddie Jordan and a long rebuilding process appeared on the horizon.
Enter coach Doug Collins. He came out of the TNT broadcast booth to shape the Sixers into winners again. The Sixers have gone 37-23 since a 3-13 start and can finish with a winning record for the first time since 2004-05. Philadelphia hasn’t won a playoff series since 2003.
Brandan Wright had 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Nets, who lost their fifth straight game.
Brand is set for his first playoff series since he played for the Clippers in 2005-06. He signed an $80 million, five-year deal in the summer of 2008 as the expected missing piece that would turn the Sixers into contenders. Instead, he missed most of his first season in Philly with a shoulder injury and didn’t play in their playoff loss to Orlando.
The power forward gets his chance now with a Philadelphia team currently owning the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Sixers don’t care what team they play. A roster led by mostly 20-somethings has a soaring confidence heading into the postseason.
Nets coach Avery Johnson called Young, one of the top sixth men in the NBA, the Sixers’ MVP. It’d be tough to argue the power forward who has blossomed under Collins. He’s scored at least 21 points in each of the last three games and was on the receiving end of the play of the game in the third.
Iguodala hooked a pass in transition to a streaking Young for the alley-oop and an 80-59 lead. Lou Williams hit a 3 on the next possession and the rout was in full blast.
Iguodala sparked the Sixers with a 12-point first quarter. He shook off left knee tendinitis and hamstring woes to have his best all-around season. Against the Nets, Iguodala got his points early, then let his teammates handle the bulk of the scoring. He also had seven assists.
The Sixers wiped out the Nets in the first half with strong shooting (54 percent) and only three turnovers. By the fourth, the garbage-time minutes turned into a dunk contest for the deep reserves. That group included opening night starter Jason Kapono and 2010 No. 2 overall draft pick Evan Turner. Turner has been buried on the bench and is not expected to play much in the postseason.
Turner was drafted to team with Holiday for a backcourt that would help lead the Sixers back toward respectability.
Unlike Turner, Holiday has done his part. He had seven assists and six rebounds, and his sharp shooting had the Sixers at the 60 percent mark from the floor deep into the fourth quarter.
It was another awful night for the Nets. Deron Williams scored only four points in 23 minutes.
Notes: The Sixers went 43-39 in 2004-05. … The Sixers had winning records in each of the last four months (December-March), their longest streak since the 2000-01 season. … Mario West became the 22nd player to play for the Nets this season, according to the team. New Jersey’s record for most players used in a season is 23.