Two of the Eastern Conference's top teams will meet Tuesday night as the Indiana Pacers visit the Philadelphia 76ers for a matchup that has playoff seeding implications.
Indiana (39-28) moved a half-game ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday for the third spot in the East with 15 games to go. The 76ers (36-29) are currently sixth in the standings, but just two games behind the Pacers as they welcome Indiana for the rubber match of the season series.
The Pacers enter the game on an impressive defensive streak. They have won five of six, holding each of the losing opponents below 100 points, including Boston, the No. 2 seed in the East, which Indiana defeated 99-97 on Sunday.
"I thought we did a good job of executing," Indiana coach Nate MacMillan said after the game. "We got the matchups we wanted and we were able to score the ball. They did a good job of moving their bigs around in different combinations and we were just able to find some matchups that worked for us and were able to capitalize, which was really big for us."
Philadelphia comes in hoping to stabilize things after a recent up-and-down stretch. The 76ers are 4-4 in their last eight games after winning seven straight, but they are coming off a 120-97 win at Brooklyn on Sunday.
Joel Embiid scored 21 points to lead eight Philadelphia players in double figures against the Nets, and the 76ers shot 53 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-point range.
"Lately, we have been kind of up and down, but I am glad we got a win tonight," Embiid told reporters after the game. "We are trying to go to the playoffs, and you have to be able to go on the road and win games."
Embiid was most impressed by his team's defense against the Nets, particularly in the second half, when they held Brooklyn to 37 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter.
"Energy, we were on lockdown," Embiid said. "We can't move, you don't want to go up and exchange baskets with the other teams. We locked in and we did a better job. We were aggressive rebounding the ball. We gave up less offensive rebounds."
The last time Philadelphia and Indiana met this season, the 76ers similarly played lockdown defense late against the Pacers, holding them to 38 second-half points. Indiana did just enough in the first half, though, to eke out a 100-92 win on Feb. 3.
In the teams' first matchup, a 121-110 Philadelphia win on Nov. 3, J.J. Redick had 31 points, including eight 3-pointers, and Ben Simmons added a triple-double with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.
After hosting the Pacers on Tuesday, the 76ers head to Madison Square Garden to face the Knicks on Thursday before returning home for three straight games.
Indiana next hosts Eastern Conference-leading Toronto before returning to the road for another matchup with a playoff-bound team on Saturday at Washington.
"All we talk about is the next game," McMillan told The Indianapolis Star.
"For us, it's about the next game and trying to improve, not looking at the standings."
Updated March 12, 2018