AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - With their first pick as a playoff opponent in the 2012 NBA playoffs, the Philadelphia 76ers select the Chicago Bulls.
The Sixers looked long and hard at their two possible matchups in the first round - the Miami Heat and Chicago - and seemed to plan covertly to do whatever necessary to make sure that's how things played out. While coach Doug Collins watched somewhat passively from the bench and most of his players sat in sports coats, the Detroit Pistons stomped out a meaningless 108-86 win Thursday night, securing the Sixers' playoff dance partner. The loss finished the Sixers at 35-31, locking them into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
So the postseason will begin 1 p.m. Saturday in Chicago, a team that certainly appears to be a much better matchup for the Sixers than the Heat, who ousted them a year ago in five games in the first round. And though the idea of getting into the playoffs as an eighth seed after they led the Atlantic Division for much of the season can't be all that appealing to the Sixers, on the surface, it appears they got what they wanted.
The season finale at the Palace of Auburn Hills was again a chance for lesser-used players to shake off some rust, display some offense and get themselves ready for the Orlando Summer League, which will take place in July.
Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young joined the team in Detroit just before game time after spending the last couple of days in Philadelphia, and they watched from the bench in street clothes. Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday also sat out the contest, in which Collins started Evan Turner, Jodie Meeks, Craig Brackins, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen.
"When you get a chance to play, you have to play well," Collins said. "You get a chance here in a couple of games to develop some trust. If I see you played well a couple of nights, then I'm more inclined to put you in the game if I need you for a short period of time. That's why I was encouraged [Wednesday] by Tony Battie. I thought Tony played well."
Collins kept a close eye on Hawes and Allen in particular against Detroit, as he thinks the two will be key to any success the team might have against the Bulls.
"I just watched 3 hours of tape on [Chicago] this afternoon," Collins said. "If you have any chance of beating that team, you have to rebound the ball."
If the Sixers were looking for a model in that department, they needn't have looked far. One of the game's best rebounders, Ben Wallace played his last game; he has announced he will retire after a 16-year career in which he garnered four All-Star appearances, four Defensive Player of the Year awards and 1,088 games, a record for an undrafted player. In honor of Wallace, who always wears headbands, everybody in the organization but the coaches wore blue headbands.
"He's had an amazing career," Collins said of the Virginia Union product. "I love the stories that [associate head coach] Michael Curry talks about all the time, playing with Ben and his approach to the game, and how he would dominate the defensive backboard and the offensive backboard, and his defense. People didn't realize he's a skilled basketball player. He's a very good passer, he's got a great feel for the game. He's just a guy who didn't shoot that much, and I think a lot got made about his free throws. But he's a big-time winner. A big, big-time winner. I'm glad we got a chance to see his last game here. I've always admired him a lot."
Detroit used a three-point barrage to bury the Sixers, hitting an NBA-tying record 11 field goals in the second quarter (in a span of 8 minutes, 16 seconds). During that span, guard Ben Gordon hit seven straight treys, scoring those 21 points in a span of 4:49.
Gordon finished with 26.
Hawes, who Collins hopes will find his shooting stroke for the Chicago series, scored 16 points on 8-for-13 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds. Meeks, the only player to participate in all 66 games this season, scored 15, while Sam Young scored 12 and Turner and Brackins added 10 each.
And now on to the postseason, against their preferred opponent.
"I just think it's a better matchup for us," Williams said. "Obviously, you can't overlook Chicago, they're the No. 1 seed. That's not what we're doing. But competitively we feel like we have a better opportunity to go in and make more noise in a series against Chicago than we would have against a team like Miami that we haven't matched up well with in the past. We're playing well enough to be playing right there with any team, we feel like these past couple of weeks."
Lou Williams wound up leading the team in scoring at 14.9 a game. He is the first player since 1993-94 to lead his team in scoring while never starting a game. Del Curry accomplished that feat for the Charlotte Hornets . . . The Sixers turned the ball over 11 times against the Pistons, giving them 738 for the season. That is an average of 11.2 a game, the lowest average since the shot clock was implemented. The previous record was held by the 2005-06 Pistons at 11.4 a game . . . Dating back to the start of the 2006-07 season, Andre Iguodala is the only player in the NBA to collect at least 7,500 points, 2,500 rebounds, 2,400 assists and 800 steals.