With only two games remaining in their regular season, the Philadelphia 76ers will try to improve their NBA playoffs positioning starting Saturday with a matchup against the visiting Indiana Pacers.
Philadelphia (49-31) missed an opportunity to move into the Eastern Conference’s No. 3 seed by virtue of its 119-114 loss at Toronto on Thursday.
With Milwaukee and Boston playing each other, a Sixers win would have moved Philadelphia ahead of the Bucks-Celtics loser. That ended up being Boston after it fell 127-121 to Milwaukee.
As a result, the Sixers head into the season-ending back-to-back against Indiana and Detroit a half-game behind the Celtics for No. 3, and a game back of Milwaukee for No. 2. The loss in Toronto also snapped a three-game winning streak for Philadelphia.
“They made shots, and we didn’t do a really good job at contesting as we needed to,” the Sixers’ James Harden said in his postgame news conference.
Philadelphia played in Toronto without defensive stopper Matisse Thybulle, who was declared ineligible to play for unspecified reasons. If the playoffs started now, the Sixers and Raptors would face each other as the fourth and fifth seeds, making Thybulle’s eligibility in Canada a potential issue.
Sixteen turnovers also doomed Philadelphia at Toronto, five of which came from Most Valuable Player candidate Joel Embiid. The Sixers have been among the NBA’s best teams in terms of ball protection throughout the season, ranking fourth in average giveaways a game at 12.5.
Indiana (25-55), meanwhile, has not generated many turnovers. The Pacers rank in the NBA’s lower-third at 13.1 turnovers created per game, while coughing up possession 14.5 times per game — among the league’s lowest averages.
Indiana comes into Saturday’s matchup on a season-worst eight-game losing skid, the most recent of which came Tuesday in a 131-122 matchup with this same Philadelphia bunch.
The Sixers shot 23 of 40 from 3-point range in the win, including 8 of 11 from Tyrese Maxey, who scored 30 points. Embiid posted 45 points, part of an ongoing run in which he has recorded at least 29 points in eight of nine games.
“He’s not bailing people out with jump shots,” said TJ McConnell, current Pacers guard and a former Philadelphia teammate of Embiid, to the Indianapolis Star. “He’s putting his back to the basket and just absolutely punishing guys, and when they start to double-team him, he’s stepping out and making 3s, which he’s more than capable of doing. Just his progression from the first year he was able to play until now, it’s truly remarkable.”
McConnell returned to the Indiana lineup on Tuesday from a hand injury that had sidelined him since early December. His absence contributed to a litany of injuries and roster moves that kept the Pacers’ lineup in flux for much of the year.
In Tuesday’s matchup with the Sixers, Malcolm Brogdon sat (rest) and Goga Bitadze was sidelined with a foot injury. Chris Duarte last played on March 15, shut down for the season due to a toe injury.
Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield, additions in a February trade from the Sacramento Kings for Domantas Sabonis, have emerged as two of Indiana’s primary offensive weapons at 17.4 and 18.3 points, respectively, per game. Haliburton scored 21 and Hield had 25 points in Tuesday’s loss to the Sixers.
–Field Level Media