CHICAGO — Brett Brown will tell you that his 76ers are still very much in "an appropriate fear mode."
However, there's a familiarity and continuity coming out of the NBA all-star break that wasn't present during the previous four seasons. That's because, for the first time in Brown's five-season tenure, the Sixers didn't waive or trade a player at the trade deadline. Instead, they claimed a key reserve in Marco Belinelli off waivers four days later to help with their postseason push.
The Sixers headed into Thursday night's matchup against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center with the Eastern Conference's seventh-best record. The top eight teams at the end of the 82-game regular season will advance to the playoffs. The Sixers are determined to get a top-four seed to secure home-court advantage in the first round.
"It's something that from the city's perspective, from the fans' perspective and from the these guys' perspective to take continuity and move it forward instead of hack away at it and chop it down," Brown said after Thursday morning's shootaround at the United Center. "This is a different phase for us. We respect it. We appreciate it."
The Sixers realize that making the postseason is far from a guarantee. However, a playoff appearance is easier to visualize when there's continuity in addition to Belinelli, who was brought in after the Atlanta Hawks bought out his contract.
But during the previous four seasons, the Sixers were tanking. As a result, they used their assets to acquire draft picks and expiring contracts. That led to their sending some of their best players to teams in need.
Last season, the Sixers traded Ersan Ilyasova to the Hawks and Nerlens Noel to the Dallas Mavericks right before the Feb. 23 NBA trade deadline. They were also without Joel Embiid, who had suffered a season-ending left knee injury. At the time of the deadline, the Sixers were 21-35. They went on to lose 19 of their remaining 26 games to finish 28-54.
The Sixers waived their best perimeter defender, JaKarr Sampson, on Feb, 18, 2016, the trade deadline that year. They did that to create roster space for a three-way trade with the Houston Rockets and Detroit Pistons that never materialized. It's hard to say if Sampson's absence had a negative effect on a dismal Sixers squad that finished 10-72.
But they did lose a lot at the 2014 and 2015 trade deadlines.
Back on Feb, 19, 2015, the Sixers shipped Michael Carter-Williams to the Milwaukee Bucks and K.J. McDaniels to the Houston Rockets. They went on to lose 23 of their next 29 games to finish 18-64.
Then the Sixers lost 23 of their 27 games after trading Spencer Hawes to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen to Indiana Pacers at the Feb. 20, 2014 deadline. They finished that campaign with a 19-63 record.
This season's trade deadline was pushed up to Feb. 8.
Chicago-area native Robert Covington had his No. 33 jersey retired on Friday at Proviso West High School. The Sixers small forward became the first player in school history to have a jersey retired.