76ers could set club record vs. Hawks with 15th straight win
The 76ers (50-30) matched a team-best streak by beating the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday. Their 50th victory of the season clinched home-court advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Atlanta (24-57) defeated Boston on Sunday, but it remains in last place in the East. The Hawks, beset by injuries in a rebuilding season, have the third-worst record in the NBA.
Philadelphia is one of the NBA’s surprise teams. The 76ers were expected to compete for a playoff spot, but they are in position to finish as high as third in the East.
Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said, “We are growing a culture. We’ve won 50 games and we have home-court advantage and we’ve tied a record. That’s true. But that is never really what’s most on my mind.”
And the 76ers have been without Joel Embiid, who averages a team-leading 22.9 points and 11 rebounds but has missed the last six games.
Brown said Embiid, out with a fractured orbital bone after a collision with teammate Markelle Fultz, might resume conditioning and shooting as soon as Monday. That could mean a return for the playoffs.
The 76ers are a deep scoring team, with seven players averaging double figures. J.J. Redick (17 points), Ben Simmons (16 points, 8.1 rebounds) and Robert Covington (12.8 points, 5.4 rebounds) have stepped up to pick up the slack since Embiid’s injury.
“This shows how far we’ve come this season,” Simmons said. “Everyone was putting us lower than expected. I think we pushed through the times. We had a tough start with the teams we’ve played. I think we got better over time.”
Atlanta, despite being without injured starters Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schroder, has continued to play hard for coach Mike Budenholzer. The Hawks have won two straight for only the second time this season and three of their last five.
“(The Boston win) is especially gratifying, knowing you have a couple impact players out and still be able to do what we do,” forward Taurean Prince said. “It’s good to see what we’re able to do, even without a full team.”
Prince has been a bright spot in a long season. He has given Atlanta a legitimate 3-point shooting threat. He made 7 of 8 3-pointers on Sunday and scored 33 points.
The second-year player has improved his numbers from his rookie year in almost every category. His scoring average has gone from 5.7 to 14 and his 3-point percentage from 32.4 to 38.7 percent. He has scored 30 points in five games.
The 76ers have won two previous meetings with the Hawks, both by 10 points. Philadelphia prevailed in its first visit to Atlanta on Nov. 1, then won March 30 in Philadelphia.
This will be the season finale for Atlanta. Philadelphia plays its last game on Wednesday at home against Milwaukee, which could be the 76ers’ first-round playoff opponent.