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Contenders: Philadelphia 76ers

Bynum anchors the middle, but youth must be served, and free throws shot

Updated: September 3, 2012, 4:08 PM ET
By Tom Haberstroh | ESPN Insider

Editor's note: This is the latest installment of a 12-part series this summer that will profile six Eastern Conference teams and six Western Conference teams that could knock off the Miami Heat. Today we profile the Philadelphia 76ers.

Overview

The Philadelphia 76ers were one of the biggest surprises last season. With a roster nearly untouched during the lockout, the Sixers were long on continuity and short on superstar talent. They jumped out to a sterling 16-6 record in the East while boasting the league's top defense for most of the season, thanks to Andre Iguodala's boa constrictor act on the perimeter.

But was Philly a fluke or was it for real? A post-January slide confirmed that the Sixers weren't quite ready to contend with the Bulls and Heat for the East's top record. The Sixers finished the season on a 19-25 tailspin that almost knocked them out of the playoff race. Still, they managed to hold onto the 8-seed in the East.

The Sixers played like the little brother desperate to prove that they could hang with the big boys. And for much of the season, they did. Heading into a first-round matchup against the mighty Chicago Bulls, the outlook wasn't looking so rosy. But that all changed when Derrick Rose suffered a season-ending knee injury in Game 1. The Sixers went on to win the series in six games and pushed the Boston Celtics to the brink in the Eastern Conference semifinals, before falling in seven games.

Considering this was a team in disarray at the tail end of the regular season, the postseason push could be viewed as a success for the blossoming squad. But even with youngsters Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young set to return, the Sixers' front office wouldn't be satisfied with the status quo.

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