- Associated Press - Thursday, January 6, 2011

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Doug Collins saw the schedule and wondered if a season teetering on the brink of rebound or collapse might buckle and collapse.

The 76ers had one final home game with the defending-champion Lakers before hitting the road for a season-high eight-game road trip. It’s the kind of schedule that would give about any NBA team fits, especially one that started 3-13.

“I had some nights,” Collins said, “where I was thinking I was going to be talking to (the media) with nine straight losses.”

No, the lengthy losing streak never happened over that span. But a few nice wins and some players blossoming into their roles did.

Destined for the draft lottery only six weeks ago, Collins, in his first year, has the Sixers thinking about the playoffs entering Friday’s game against Chicago.

They went 3-5 on the swing, a moderate success for a team that was one of the worst in the NBA last year. And they returned home to beat the Washington Wizards to nestle into a tie for the eighth seed with Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference standings.

“We’re thinking about it,” forward Thaddeus Young said. “We’ve got to go out there and compete every game and make sure we seal up a spot.”

The Sixers rebounded from the dreadful 3-13 start to go on an 11-8 run. Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams each scored 26 points and led them to a 109-97 win on Wednesday that kept the Wizards winless on the road this season.

There’s still a long season ahead, of course, and the Sixers would first like to get to .500.

But suddenly in Philadelphia, there’s hope.

“This is one of the better rhythms that we’ve been in with this group,” Williams said. “We want to continue to ride that wave and continue to play good basketball. Just bottle it up.”

Even their play in recent losses gives Collins reason to believe in his team. The Sixers lost by four points each at Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers _ but were thumped by 45 points Dec. 21 against the Bulls.

The Bulls loss is a performance _ as Eagles coach Andy Reid likes to say _ the Sixers would like to have back. But beat the Bulls on Friday, and they can truly forget about their worst loss.

And there’s good news ahead. After the Bulls, the Sixers will embark on a stretch where they can pad their record against sub.-500 teams. A schedule that has Detroit, Indiana, Milwaukee and Charlotte before a Jan. 19 game at Orlando is a perfect opportunity for the Sixers to climb back toward .500 and prove they are legitimate playoff contenders.

“These are teams you want to keep below you. We’re trying to get up,” Collins said. “We want to keep Washington and New Jersey and Cleveland and Toronto below. We’ve got to try and bump somebody ahead of us out of there.”

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