The Boston Celtics already have clinched the Atlantic Division title, which is no surprise considering the way they’ve played this season against divisional opponents.
The Celtics will look to move to 13-1 against division rivals on Monday as they try to complete their first season sweep of the Philadelphia 76ers in 12 years.
Boston has dominated all of its Atlantic opponents, outscoring them by an average of 15.7 points, and the Sixers have been no exception. The Celtics (55-14) have reached 100 points in each of their three victories against them, winning by 17.0 points per game.
That includes a 100-86 win in Philadelphia on March 10—one of only two Sixers losses in 11 games this month—as Kevin Garnett led Boston with 26 points and 12 rebounds.
“They make you realize we have a ways to go,” Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks said after that game. “We’ve been playing well, but we’ve got to play better. They have seasoned guys, we understand that.”
The Celtics, whose only season sweep of Philadelphia over the past 35 years came in 1995-96, suffered their lone loss to a division opponent this season on Jan. 23 against Toronto.
A 113-106 loss at New Orleans on Saturday prevented Boston from finishing its five-game road trip undefeated, but the Celtics have still won 14 of 16 overall. This is the their first game back in Boston since having an 11-game home winning streak snapped with a 110-92 loss to Utah on March 14.
The only thing the Celtics have left to play for in the regular season is the top seed in the Eastern Conference. They failed to move a step closer on Saturday, playing their fourth road game against a Western Conference contender in six nights, despite leading the Hornets by 13 points after the first quarter.
“We definitely had our opportunities, had our big early lead, but we couldn’t get stops tonight for some reason,” Boston’s Paul Pierce said. “We just played lackadaisical (in the fourth quarter). You’ve got to give them some credit.”
The Sixers (35-35) have deserved plenty of credit recently, winning five of their last six and nine of 11 - a stretch that includes victories over Phoenix, Detroit, and San Antonio. A win over the Celtics would bring them over .500 for the first time this season.
Behind an impressive effort from Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia beat New Jersey 91-87 at home on Saturday. The Sixers held the Nets to 12 fourth-quarter points, while Iguodala scored 19 of his 28 points in the second half.
“I think we’re starting to learn a little bit, especially from other teams,” said Iguodala, who has topped 20 points in five of his last six games.
“I try to point out to the guys, let’s learn from those great teams. Learn from the Detroits, learn from the Bostons. The things that they do well, we need to take that from them and incorporate that into our games. I think we’re doing that, especially with the fourth-quarter defense.”
Andre Miller added 21 points Saturday, continuing his solid play during the Sixers’ recent run as they’ve moved into a tie with Toronto for sixth place in the East. He’s averaged 22.5 points and 7.3 assists in his last four games.
Miller had 22 points, eight rebounds and five assists against Boston earlier this month.