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76ers-Pacers Preview

AP - Sports

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 Cleveland.

"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 stuff."

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 New Jersey.

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.

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