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Thanks to Brett Brown, the Sixers are actual contenders

With 14 consecutive wins and a potential No. 3 seed in the playoffs, the NBA will be taking the Sixers very seriously.

Look at the standings and you’ll notice that Sixers head coach Brett Brown already has more wins this season than in his first three seasons combined.

Think about that for a second.

It’s almost unfathomable to believe that a head coach in the NBA could win 47 games in three full seasons.

The Tank-A-Thon was in full force and continued for one more season.

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In year No. 5 for Brown, everything has turned in a positive way. It didn’t happen overnight.

Believe it – the 76ers are for real.

There were some difficult losses to stomach early in the season. There was the Markelle Fultz saga, which lasted for much of the season. There was the early season skepticism of whether Joel Embiid could be durable for the marathon 82-game season.

Guess what? The Sixers have overcome everything thanks in large part to the guidance of Brown.

The team is maturing. It’s learning how to win in every way imaginable. Friday night’s scintillating 132-130 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers catapulted the Sixers into the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race. It was their 13th straight win, the longest streak since the 1984-85 season led by Charles Barkley. The streak stretched to 14 after Philly took care of the Mavericks at home Sunday.

And they did it without Embiid. The franchise cornerstone may not even be available for the beginning of the playoffs. This is a fluid situation which will be monitored daily.

At one point earlier this season, the Sixers were hardly guaranteed a playoff berth.

Little by little, everything fell into place.

Ben Simmons has developed into an All-Star caliber player. Dario Saric has been so consistent. Late season signings such as Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova have been huge in terms of veteran leadership. JJ Redick has continued to show why the Sixers paid him $23 million for this one season. Even deep reserve Richaun Holmes has contributed after not playing for long stretches.

The whole situation has been led by Brown.

The Sixers were 36-30 and fighting like crazy to stay in playoff contention. They haven’t stopped winning since and found a way to defeat LeBron James without Embiid.

“I saw it immediately after the game there’s just a very spirited group of some old, some young players that are sharing in each others’ success and led by Joel Embiid,” Brown said. “I think Joel looks great, like he’s as thin as I’ve ever seen him. He is what we talk about thin is in all the time his body looks exceptional and his spirit is there to match that.”

Embiid’s leadership has grown throughout the season and that’s another factor for this franchise’s success.

The passionate Sixers fan base is desperate for a deep playoff run. They can sense a run coming like 2001 when they advanced to the Finals. The players can sense it as well.

“I've said it many times, this is as good of a home crowd as I've ever played in front of in my NBA career,” Redick said. “It's a huge advantage for us. It's one of the reasons I think we've been so focused over the last month or so on trying to get home court advantage because we know this will be a huge factor for us. Especially, first round. Maybe second round. Going forward.”

The Sixers aren’t limping into the playoffs – they’re sprinting. The confidence is growing with each victory. If Embiid is able to return earlier than expected, look out. More wins could be on the way.