This much we know: After a 1-year hiatus, the 76ers will be returning to the postseason.

Their first-round opponent is still an uncertainty.

It appears that the Chicago Bulls should hold on to the top spot in the Eastern Conference, as they have a 2 1/2-game lead over Miami and three-game lead over Boston with six games to play.

That Celtics-Heat race is of great importance to the Sixers, who had their three-game winning streak snapped Saturday with an overtime loss in Milwaukee. With the Sixers in a good position to hold on to the sixth spot in the East, whoever loses that No. 2 battle between Miami and Boston would be the Sixers' playoff opponent.

Coach Doug Collins isn't concerned with whom his team plays, he's more focused on how his team is playing come playoff time.

"I think it's going to extend out," said Collins of how the playoff seedings might fall. "We've got the Knicks coming in at home, which is going to be a very, very big game, obviously. If we win that game, we've got the tiebreaker. And then we've got Toronto and then Orlando coming in and they might be locked into a position so you don't know what they're going to bring, and then we've got Detroit. I think to finish this season is going to be very important to us. I see two and three being very volatile still. Those teams are continuing to win and if there is as much volatility at the top as there is . . . Four and five are probably set, and one, two, three and six, seven and eight are still pretty volatile. I think it's going to go down late in the season."

Asked if he had a preference whom his team could face, Collins answered quickly, "I don't."

It's important to note that Andre Iguodala continues to struggle with knee tendinitis and Elton Brand with injuries to both hands.

So with a playoff spot already secure, could there be some rest in the near future for either of those players?

"No, I don't think so," Collins said. "I want us to be playing good basketball so that we go in feeling good about ourselves. The only guy that I would like to be able to rest would be E.B. What I would like to do with him would be when you have 2 days between games, and we have that a couple of times, I would love to be able to tell him not to do anything for 2 days. But I think it's important our guys play. I think we have to keep working at getting better. Dre's missed 13 games this year, so he's going to want to play. I think if you start shutting guys down, I'm not sure that's the best road to go."

The road gets pretty tough this week: Tomorrow the Sixers face the Celtics in Boston, then come back home to play the Knicks on Wednesday.


The Sixers had a day off yesterday after getting in early yesterday morning from Milwaukee. They will practice today before flying out to Boston . . . The Sixers have lost twice to the Celtics this year by a total of five points and won the last meeting between the two teams, 89-86, here on March 11 . . . The Sixers have held the opposition to under 100 points in each of the last four games.

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