Philadelphia (4-4) haven’t been above .500 after nine games in a season since the 2013/14 campaign, which was also the last time they reeled off four straight wins.
The 76ers put themselves in this position after posting a 119-109 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night. Ben Simmons finished one assist shy of a triple-double with 19 points and 13 rebounds, but it was Philadelphia’s defense that delivered this win as it held Atlanta to three points in the first 7:24 of the fourth quarter and 16 points for the final period.
Indiana (5-3) also have won three in a row after taking advantage of a struggling Cleveland Cavaliers team to record a 124-107 road victory Wednesday night. Darren Collison went 9 of 10 from the field and finished with 25 points and eight rebounds for the Pacers, who shot a blistering 61.5 percent (16 for 26) from 3-point range.
The Pacers have been shooting at a 49.4 percent clip (38 for 77) from beyond the arc during their winning streak, which is better than their overall mark of 48.0 percent in that span. Bojan Bogdanovic has led that surge, going 9 of 15 from long range while averaging 16.3 points on 53.1 percent shooting in those wins.
Starting center Myles Turner could make his first appearance since suffering a concussion in Indiana’s season-opening win over Brooklyn. He took part in the shoot around before Wednesday’s game, and Domantas Sabonis has filled in well in the pivot, averaging 13.1 points and 11.1 rebounds while shooting 61.8 percent.
Three keys to the game
Trusting the process - Joel Embiid's frustration about not being able to play on back-to-back days is understandable, but he's only missed one game and he's not missing this one. The center is coming off his best all-around game of the season with 21 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks against Atlanta, and has averaged 23.4 points and 9.0 rebounds in the five games since he sat out.
Can Collison sustain his offense? - Collison's best two offensive games have come as bounce-back efforts for the Pacers. Overall, he's enjoying the best start of his career, averaging 14.3 points and 7.6 assists while shooting 53.2 percent. The Pacers have outscored opponents by 52 points when he has been on the floor during this winning streak, and if his shot is falling, Indiana's backcourt with him and Victor Oladipo becomes lethal.
Foul-happy Philly - Philadelphia have an NBA-worst minus 8.3 differential in free throws attempted and minus 8.4 in free throws made. While their offense hasn't exactly struggled, it's the fact opponents are averaging 22.5 points and connecting at a 76.9 percent clip compared to Philadelphia's 14.1 points and 67.3 percent rate that magnifies those 8.4 points per game all the more. The discrepancy is more pronounced at home by more than a 2-to-1 margin (83 to 41 in free throw attempts), so more foot movement and less reaching would benefit the young 76ers.
Matchup to watch
Domantas Sabonis vs Joel Embiid - While star power may be lacking if Turner misses an eighth straight game due to post-concussion symptoms, Sabonis has been a steady force in the middle for Indiana, recording five double-doubles in seven games since joining the starting lineup and outplaying pivot counterparts Pau Gasol and Willie Cauley-Stein in recent games. Embiid, though, will be his toughest challenge to date on both ends of the floor, and this clash could go a long way to determining which team emerges with a four-game winning streak.
Indiana Pacers projected starting lineup
PG - Darren Collison | SG - Victor Oladipo | C - Domantas Sabonis | SF - Bojan Bogdanovic | PF - Thaddeus Young
Philadelphia 76ers projected starting lineup
PG - Ben Simmons | SG - J. J. Redick | C - Joel Embiid | SF - Robert Covington | PF - Dario Saric
Embiid caused all sorts of problems for Turner last season as he totaled 25 points and seven rebounds while going 12 for 14 from the foul line in his only game against Indiana.
Simmons, though, may be the better fantasy play because he has been hovering around a triple-double in almost every contest. The rookie has averaged 22.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 8.7 assists during Philadelphia's winning streak with a 2.6 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Oladipo is primed for a big game for the Pacers, he's averaged 19.5 points in his last four games against Philadelphia and is scoring 28.5 points per game on the road this season, shooting 59.3 percent (16 for 27) from 3-point range and 53.2 percent overall.
There hasn't been a line established on this game due to the possible return of Turner, but the Pacers have a lot of favorable trends. They are 8-1 against the spread in their last nine road games and 11-2 in their last 13 versus Eastern Conference opponents. Indiana are also 7-2 in their last nine against the spread against Philadelphia, including 4-1 in their last five road matchups.
If ever there were a chance for the Philadelphia 76ers to break out and make people take notice, it's this game. They are almost four years removed from a four-game winning streak, but the chance to be above .500 nine games into a season for the first time since November 2013 has to be an exciting carrot of motivation. No one has really figured out how to slow down Simmons, and while Collison and Oladipo have been a dynamite backcourt, the rookie will create many matchup problems since he gets to the basket almost at will.
If Turner plays, look to see if Pacers coach Nate McMillan limits his minutes in his return or whether he will risk disrupting the chemistry he has with Sabonis manning the pivot. One underrated matchup will be Bogdanovic versus Randy Covington at small forward, with Covington moving to the wing with Simmons assuming more point guard responsibilities. Look for both teams to run at every opportunity, with the 76ers emerging with a 124-119 win.
This game will be televised locally by NBC Sports Philadelphia and Fox Sports Indiana. Tip-off time is 7 pm ET.
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