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Path to the Playoffs: The Wizards and the 76ers

The additions of Nene, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal have the Wizards eyeing the playoffs, but it's a tougher Eastern Conference than you remember. This week, Path to the Playoffs takes a look at the Philadelphia 76ers.

Mar 30, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards center Nene (42) defends Philadelphia 76ers center Spencer Hawes (00) during the first half at the Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE

Today's bit covers 2011-12's final entry into the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Philadelphia 76ers. This team is shaken up, and no mistake. Gone is playmaking supersub Lou Williams to the Atlanta Hawks via free agency. Elton Brand used to be a Philly baller, until he took an amensty in the knee and was awarded to the Dallas Mavericks. Andre Iguodala was shipped out in a blockbuster that netted them mercurial former Lakers center Andrew Bynum. Nikola Vucevic and 2012 draft choice Maurice (don't call him Mo) Harkless were shipped to the Orlando Magic in the same deal.

The Sixers were busy under the headlines, as well. The only cap poison they swallowed in the Bynum acquisition was Jason Richardson's contract. To address the gaping hole at small forward, they acquired Dorell Wright from the Golden State Warriors for the rights to an overseas player. Now, Richardson came on after they signed Nick Young, which makes for a bit of a logjam at SG we'll talk about after the jump. Kwame Brown signed on, Spencer Hawes re-signed, and with Lavoy Allen and Thaddeus Young still on board, the front court has taken a big step forward.

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While it's a simple matter to look at the Sixers roster on paper and conclude the playoffs should be a cinch with homecourt within reach, there's more than enough questions to make the postseason an uncertainty. By simple anecdote, Dwight Howard > Andrew Bynum and the Magic finished 6th in the East. Granted, that was an abortion of a cap situation but Bynum isn't a DPOY candidate just yet. In the meantime, that's the Team USA designated defender Andre Iguodala they just traded away and replaced with Dorell Wright...he of the problematic defense. Also, plenty of observers around the NBA will be keeping a close eye on AB, to see how he fares in the front court without Pau Gasol keeping defenses honest. Nick Young could end up being their best defensive answer at SF, which would help obviate the logjam at SG, allowing Evan Turner and Jason Richardson to take most of the minutes there. But it's an open question as to how much their defense will suffer.

The offense will, in theory, be much improved. Jason Richardson, Nick Young, Dorell Wright and Andrew Bynum have historically had little trouble scoring the ball (with Wright coming back down to earth in 2011/12 from the 2010/11 season, but improving as an all-around player). Evan Turner will have an opportunity to step as a designated perimeter playmaker in Lou Williams' absence, while Jrue Holiday looks to prove he is worth a max contract, so hiccups are inevitable...but this offense will score more than last year. Both Wright and Young (Thaddeus and Nick) are excellent at taking care of the ball, which should help limit turnovers as the team gets themselves figured out. Which will take time.

Big picture, this team has to reinvent itself on both ends of the floor while needing young, backcourt players to take big steps forward. That is not a recipe for immediate success. With the Eastern Conference getting tougher this year, that could easily mean the Wizards and Sixers find themselves duking it out towards the end of the year.

The Sixers depth looks pretty good, with talent deficits at PG past starter Holiday (depending on how much you like Royal Ivey and Maalik Wayns) and lacking a strong presence at SF. Arnett Moultrie will likely find minutes behind Thad Young and Spencer Hawes at PF with Lavoy Allen getting his as the third string C behind Bynum and Kwame Brown. Both Youngs can fill in at SF behind Dorell Wright, while SG is set for years. Barring injuries, this team should stay fresh and competitive, so the Wizards will simply have to be better. That's a tall order, should they find their rhythm. If Doug Collins can get these spare parts to run like a well-oiled machine, look out.