76ers hit road in third-place chase in East to face Hornets

The streaking Philadelphia 76ers continue their pursuit of the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs when they visit the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday afternoon.

The 76ers (45-30) will take the court one-half game behind Cleveland and a half-game ahead of Indiana, both of whom also play Sunday.

They are vying for the third, fourth and fifth playoff spots in the East, with the third and fourth securing home-court advantage in the first round.

The 76ers are the hottest of the bunch, having won nine in a row, but earlier this week lost star center Joel Embiid for the rest of the regular season, and perhaps more, with a fractured orbital near his left eye.

He underwent surgery Saturday and his estimated time of recovery has been set as low as two weeks. The playoffs begin in 13 days.

Fortunately for the 76ers, they’ve been able to welcome back Markelle Fultz just as they were losing Embiid.

Fultz, the top overall pick of the 2017 draft, aggravated a pre-existing shoulder injury in the fourth game of the regular season and didn’t play again until Monday.

The guard has averaged 7.7 points, 5.0 assists and 3.3 rebounds, shooting 38.5 percent, in 15.7 minutes in his first three games.

“I’ve been doing a lot of practice to get my rhythm back,” he said after his best shooting game — 4 for 8 — in Friday’s 101-91 victory at Atlanta. “The more games I play, the better it’s going to get, just like anything you do.

“I definitely feel better and more comfortable. Shots were falling. So it felt good.”

The 76ers need five wins in their last seven games for their first 50-win season since 2001. They already have clinched their first playoff spot in six years.

The Hornets’ long-shot bid for a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs ended for all intents and purposes when they were beaten 118-105 at home by the Cavaliers on Wednesday.

Charlotte (34-42) was formally eliminated when Miami and Milwaukee won their 41st games Thursday.

The loss to Cleveland had a historic finish when Kemba Walker passed Dell Curry for the franchise scoring lead with a layup in the final seconds.

What made the moment extra special, Walker admitted, was being embraced by Cavaliers star LeBron James after the feat.

“He just told me congratulations, and it’s a huge accomplishment,” Walker said. “He’s the best player in the world. Coming from him, that means a lot.”

Walker seemed to experience a bit of a hangover from the event. He went scoreless in the first half of Saturday’s 107-93 loss at Washington, eventually scoring only seven points.

The 76ers will be looking to complete a 4-0 sweep in a season series that featured no matchups in the first 62 games of the season but three during an 18-day stretch.

Embiid (22.0 points, 13.3 rebounds) significantly outplayed rival big man Dwight Howard (15.5 points, 5.3 rebounds) in the three games, but the 76ers were equally dominant as well from the perimeter.

The Sixers outscored the Hornets 102-51 on 3-pointers in the last two meetings, going 34 of 77 from beyond the arc.