The 76ers try to keep rolling toward the postseason and tie a season high with a fourth consecutive win Saturday night at the Bradley Center, where the Bucks can’t afford any more slip-ups after their latest excruciating defeat.
Philadelphia (40-36) dug itself a hole in the Eastern Conference by starting 3-13, but took the final step in an impressive turnaround Friday night. The 76ers clinched a spot in the postseason with a 115-90 rout of New Jersey, improving to 23-11 since Jan. 22 - third-best in the conference over that stretch.
“To get in the playoffs is a special feeling,” said Elton Brand(notes), who has only participated in the playoffs once before in his 12-year career. “Now that we’re in, we can focus on winning more games. I’m elated, but we have a lot of work to do before the playoffs.”
Philadelphia is sixth in the East, four games behind fifth-place Atlanta and 2 1/2 ahead of No. 7 New York, meaning a likely matchup with Miami or Boston in the first round. The preference would seem to be the struggling Celtics, whom the 76ers have beaten once and lost to twice by a combined five points.
The Heat have defeated Philadelphia three times by an average of 10.3 points.
“Now, the fun starts,” Brand said. “Let’s see how good we can be.”
Milwaukee (30-45) would certainly settle for the luxury of figuring out which potential playoff opponent it would most like to face.
Instead, it looks the Bucks will have to wait another year to win their first postseason series since 2001. Milwaukee had a chance to pull within two games of eighth-place Indiana on Friday at Conseco Fieldhouse, but instead wrapped up a three-game road trip with its second one-point loss, 89-88.
“This game was a microcosm of our season,” Drew Gooden(notes), who missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer, told NBA.com. “Spending all year trying to catch the Indiana Pacers in the standings and trying to catch them in (Friday’s) game. We fell one point short.”
The Bucks likely need to go 7-0 or 6-1 to have a realistic shot at surpassing ninth-place Charlotte and then catching the Pacers, but they’ll have their hands full over the next five days. Following the visit from Philadelphia, Milwaukee travels to Orlando and Miami next week.
The 76ers defeated the Bucks twice this season at the Wells Fargo Center, but hardly showed up in Milwaukee three weeks ago. They had 20 turnovers and fell behind by as many as 34 points in a 102-74 loss.
After that game, Sixers coach Doug Collins pronounced “that (Bucks) team tonight will make the playoffs.”
If they can defend Brand like they did in last month’s meeting, they’ll have a much better chance to get closer to Indiana. Milwaukee held Brand to three points and three rebounds, while the Bucks’ frontcourt of Andrew Bogut(notes) and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute(notes) combined for 31 points and 21 boards.
The Sixers’ Jrue Holiday(notes) has committed 14 turnovers in the season series, but his backup has given Philadelphia plenty of help. Louis Williams(notes) has averaged 20.0 points off the bench against Milwaukee.