Doug Collins was looking back across the hilly landscape of the 76ers' 2011-12 experience and searched for a way to describe the team's fast start to the season, the 20-9 beginning that reinvigorated the fan base, raised the expectation level for the team, and influenced the coach to keep heading down the same trail longer than he might have otherwise.

"Fool's gold," Collins said. "Our 20-9 start was a little bit of fool's gold. We got off to a great start, were able to keep the same starting lineup, had a very soft schedule and we took care of our business at home."

It was the same term the Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie used to describe his team's four season-ending wins against bad or unmotivated opponents after a 4-8 start.

You wonder if Philadelphia sports is little more than one big pyrite mine at the moment.

Was the occasional brilliance of Ilya Bryzgalov nothing but fool's gold leading the Flyers to believe he might actually keep from going wifty for the entire length of a postseason?

Is the Phillies' starting rotation just fool's gold that glitters so brightly it obscures the broken-down state of an aging, under-powered offense?

People don't like being wrong, but they really don't like being fooled, and that is what it feels like around here right now.

The Sixers are in danger of discovering another vein of fool's gold if they close out their opening-round series with a win over the Bulls on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center or if they require and somehow win a Game 7 in Chicago on Saturday.

It will be tempting for management to look at a season in which the Sixers finished over .500 for the first time in seven years and won a playoff round for the first time in nine years and then believe everything is on track for the future. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Sixers are still mired in the same no-man's land where they have resided since Allen Iverson finally did play that last game he was always talking about and since the organization put itself in salary cap jail to either acquire or keep Andre Iguodala (pyritis disappointis) and Elton Brand (pyritis overhillis).

Neither of these miscalculations are the fault of the current front office, but the team is still a disjointed mess because of them. The worst thing management could do is decide that the rekindling of fan interest this season - which should help sell a few season tickets for next year - is proof that this slow progress, if it were even real, will keep folks around very long.

The new ownership seems like a good bunch of guys, all 50 of them, and they are very excited, as they should be, but Father Comcast could lecture them on the wisdom of getting too giddy with this team. Next thing you know, the building's empty, the league wants some luxury tax, and your superstars are bailing on Fan Appreciation Night. Oh, Ed Snider could tell them some stories if he wasn't busy fuming about Rooskies just like the old days.

So, it's not the most pleasant short-term suggestion, but the Sixers might be better off if they don't win the series against Chicago. Fewer misconceptions about what they have going forward.

Make no mistake. Right now, the Sixers are playing horrendously bad basketball and have gotten away with it only because the Bulls can't figure out how to play without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, which is understandable.

In the series, here is a rundown of the Sixers' shooting percentage from the field: 39.8, 59.0, 34.2, 39.2, 32.1. If this were a real test of basketball skill, the series would have ended Tuesday in Chicago and the Sixers would be free to reflect on their shortcomings.

Their primary perimeter shooters - Lou Williams, Iguodala, Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday - have made 38 percent of their shots in the series. These are the shooters! Take away that night-of-the-blue-snow Game 2 when the Bulls stopped playing defense, and those guys are shooting 32 percent in the other four games.

And while the Sixers can't shoot, they aren't very tough, either. The Bulls decided to take it to them in Game 5 and smacked them around. In the playoffs, this isn't that unusual, and the Sixers have been exposed as a team that can pick the low-hanging fruit of the regular season but is spectacularly unmade for the postseason.

"In the playoffs, the game gets very rough. Look at the scores of other games. Teams are struggling to get into the 80s. That's the nature of playoff basketball," Collins said. "And we're not a great shooting team. If we don't get stuff in transition, we have to get it in our half-court game shooting jump shots. That's not our strength."

Teams know that, pack in their defenses to fortify the lane and live happily with the result. Chicago won the other night despite shooting poorly itself (41.5 percent), not getting offensive rebounds (8), not making many free throws (4) and being sloppy with the ball (15 turnovers). The Bulls were terrible, is what they were. If they weren't terrible - if they had their players - it would have been a 25-point win, not an eight-point win.

Instead, they have their hands full with the Sixers, and the series might well end here Thursday night, and if so there will be confetti falling and cannons booming and lights flashing and music blaring and girls dancing and high-fiving and owner-hugging.

Get out the picks and hammers, boys. Start digging the mineshaft. We just struck something and it sure looks like gold.