76ers bury dismal start, push toward the playoffs

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The Philadelphia 76ers were 3-13 and another lost season appeared on the horizon.

Doug Collins could not let a total collapse happen.

He wasn’t hired to let the Sixers plod through another year where the only highlight would be a high lottery pick. He called them together and offered the type of scouting report he might have unleashed if he was still a TNT broadcaster.

Collins delivered a tough-love sermon that might have surprised more than a few Sixers who had grown comfortable in a losing environment.

“When we were 3-13, we could have hung our heads and guys could have went their separate ways. He wouldn’t let us,” forward Elton Brand said. “He called guys out, which might not have happened in the past. He straight-up called them out. He said names. To their faces. In front of the team.”

Look at the Sixers now _ an improbable 30-29 and playing with a belief they can beat any top team in the NBA.

When Collins calls out his players these days, it’s to heap praise on his surging squad that has grown from thinking they can make the playoffs to believing they can win a first-round series.

In a league where superstars and super teams rule, they’ve proved 12 talented players working hard and working together can win.

“I wanted us to be relevant again. We are,” Collins said. “I want us to be more than relevant. I want us to be really good. I wanted people in the NBA talking about us, which they are.”

The Sixers have won a season-high four consecutive games entering Tuesday’s game against Dallas (43-16). In November, a game against the Mavericks would have been considered an automatic loss. Not anymore.

Consider this final against Western Conference-leading San Antonio from Feb. 11: 76ers 77, Spurs 71.

The numbers don’t lie.

The Sixers are 27-16 since Nov. 26, and are tied for the seventh-highest winning percentage (.628) of any team in the league over that span.

Philadelphia is above .500 for the first time since it was 3-2 in 2009-10. The Sixers have won 13 of their past 17 games, including six of the past seven.

“We can’t get caught up in the numbers,” swingman Andre Iguodala said. “We’re playing well right now. We can’t get too happy and relax.”

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