The surging Indiana Pacers have locked up the No. 3 seed in the
Eastern Conference playoff race.
The inconsistent Philadelphia 76ers could finally wrap up the
East’s last available playoff spot Saturday night.
Indiana looks to extend its longest winning streak in eight
seasons to eight as the visiting 76ers try to win two straight for
just the second time in six weeks.
Winners of 11 of 12 in April, the Pacers (41-22) will open the
postseason at home for the first time since 2004. They clinched the
third seed Thursday with a 118-109 victory over Milwaukee, which
fell three back of eighth-place Philadelphia (32-30).
“It’s not that we didn’t play hard, it’s that you need an
extraordinary effort against a team like (Indiana), not an ordinary
one,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. “It’s a great club. They’ll be
a tough out in the playoffs.”
The Pacers, who lost to Chicago in last year’s opening round in
their first playoff appearance since 2006, are riding their longest
winning streak since a seven-game run Feb. 28-March 12, 2004. They
had an eight-game win streak earlier that season en route to a
team-record 61 victories and a conference finals appearance.
The 76ers would settle for back-to-back wins at this point.
They’ve lost 13 of 20 since a 3-0 run March 7-11, winning two
straight only once in that span and going 2-10 against teams with
above-.500 records. One of those defeats was a 102-97 home loss to
Indiana on Tuesday.
Philadelphia blew a three-game Atlantic Division lead – Boston
clinched that title earlier this week – but is in good shape to
make the playoffs following Wednesday’s 103-87 victory over
“It was a great win, much needed,” said coach Doug Collins,
whose team avoided a fourth straight loss to begin its
season-ending five-game trip. “Hopefully we can get a little rest.
That third game in three nights is not easy to do. All good
The 76ers have a potentially crucial matchup in Milwaukee on
Wednesday, but the chase for the East’s only remaining playoff
berth will end Saturday if Philadelphia wins and the Bucks lose to
While the 76ers have played better on the road lately, winning
three of four, they’ll face a Pacers team that has won four
straight and eight of nine at home.
“This is our house,” George Hill said Thursday after scoring 22
points with eight assists. “We can’t let anybody come in here and
try to take advantage of us, push us around. We’ve got to be the
ones who go out and do that.”
Hill has done plenty since taking over the starting point guard
job from Darren Collison, who has missed six of the last seven
games with a sore groin. Hill, a first-year Pacer, is averaging
15.4 points and 5.4 assists while starting each game during
Indiana’s current surge.
“At the end of the day, when D.C. comes back, we’re going to get
another great player back and whatever coaches ask us to do, I’m
going to try to do it the best I can,” Hill said.
Collison’s former UCLA teammate, Jrue Holiday, scored a
team-high 24 points for the 76ers on Wednesday after finishing with
eight in Tuesday’s loss to Indiana.
Danny Granger has averaged 22.0 points in the last two meetings
– the Pacers won both – after missing the first one with food
poisoning as the 76ers won. Of the teams’ past 15 matchups, Indiana
is 7-1 when Granger scores at least 20.