Maybe Villanova’s magical ride to a national championship rubbed off on the 76ers.
One night after the Wildcats finished the college basketball season with a bang following a stirring 77-74 win over North Carolina, the Sixers came up big, too.
Unlike Villanova, there will be no parade for the Sixers.
In a lost season, simply winning their 10th game is cause for celebration. The Sixers ousted the depleted New Orleans Pelicans, 107-93, and improved to 10-68. They snapped a 12-game skid and avoided the chance of tying the 1972-73 Sixers’ dubious record of going 9-73.
The Pelicans played without key players such as Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson. Their starting five consisted of Toney Douglas, Tim Frazier, Luke Babbitt, Dante Cunningham and Alexis Ajinca. Sound like a D-League team?
Well, the Sixers have endured a tough season so they’re not apologizing to anyone.
Carl Landry hit his first nine shots, wound up 9-for-10 and scored 22 points to go along with nine rebounds. Even the fans chanted “MVP!” down the stretch.
It’s a win for a team which hasn’t experienced many victorious locker rooms.
“And we move on and we hope to get a few more before our season ends,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “I’m happy for our guys. You hear me say this every time we talk. They’re good people. They seriously care. They put in fantastic days’ work and our record wouldn’t indicate that. So to get a win and we just move on and they deserve that.”
The Pelicans held an early 12-point lead before the Sixers took control and eventually built their advantage up to 20.
Brown was never comfortable.
“Not one second. Truly,” Brown said. “You just get so interested in truly closing out a game.”
Cunningham did his best to help the Pelicans pull out a road win with 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting. Despite the loss, the former Villanova standout was in a very upbeat mood because of what had transpired in Houston the night before. Cunningham watched the Wildcats win the title in a private room at Del Frisco’s steakhouse in Philadelphia.
“I was screaming the whole time,” said Cunningham, who was decked out in a Villanova hat and jersey postgame.
Witnessing Villanova’s ride to a championship has been an experience worth relishing forever.
“I haven’t been able to keep my phone charged,” Cunningham said. “I’ve been texting the whole time. It’s been awesome. I’ve been texting with coach (Jay Wright) back and forth. Jay is as happy for us as we are for him. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Winning a 10th game in a marathon NBA season isn’t quite as amazing. The Sixers will gladly take the win and move forward.
“You hear everybody talking about it (the record), but you just try to keep it out of the locker room,” said guard Isaiah Canaan, who scored 16 points. “You try to stay focused and not let it become a distraction in any way.”
To Brown’s credit, the Sixers have continued to play hard just about every night. They don’t have a roster built to win right now. They got one last night.
At least it avoided the talk of tying a record.
“We’ve been close a lot in these recent games,” Canaan said. “We knew it was coming. We just had to stay the course and continue doing what we were doing. I’m glad we finally got that win and try to close the season out on a high note.”