By Spike Eskin

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Remember when the Sixers had a comfortable Atlantic Division lead, and played perfect all-for-one and one-for-all basketball? You can forget it. Remember when the Sixers lost the Atlantic lead to the Celtics, but were still a lock to make the playoffs because of their defense? You can forget that too. The Sixers head to New Jersey to play the Nets (21-37), with their playoff hopes hanging by a thread, and their once remarkable chemistry very much in question.

The Sixers (29-27), have lost four in a row, 10 of their last 14 games, and are just 1.5 games up on the Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. With losing, has come controversy. From talk that the team has tuned out coach Doug Collins, to Collins saying his players are too sensitive, and today, reports that Andre Iguodala will be traded in the off-season because of problems with the head coach. Their once league-leading defense has fallen, as they’re allowing nearly 100 points per game in their last four games.

Before Sunday’s blowout loss to the Celtics, Collins threatened to make changes to the Sixers starting lineup if they didn’t produce better results. They didn’t, so Collins is expected to insert guard Jodie Meeks back into the starting lineup in place of Evan Turner. Thaddeus Young is also a candidate to move into the starting lineup, perhaps  at the power forward position, moving Elton Brand to the starting center spot, and bringing Spencer Hawes off the bench.

Things were different the last time these teams played. The Nets won the game 97-90 on January 25th, behind 34 points from Deron Williams. At the time, the Nets were 6-13 and were floundering. The Sixers were 12-6 and rarely were challenged by sub .500 teams. The story is different tonight.  The Nets come into the game having won two in a row, and six of their last ten. The Sixers have lost to the last two sub .500 teams they’ve played, by 21 points each time. The goodwill and excitement that was building in Philadelphia for the Sixers seems like a distant memory.

If the Sixers are going to make the playoffs, the next three games, all winnable (NJ, CHA, NJ), are of utmost importance. But “winnable” is relative, and we’ll see if it means the same thing it meant six weeks ago to the Sixers.

Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez, Jordan Farmar and Damion Jones will all miss the game for the Nets. The Sixers are expected to be at full strength.

The game can be heard live on 94WIP at 7:30pm.


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