The two games Thursday that most affected the Sixers' playoff seeding didn't go their way.
After getting down early to the Kings, the Celtics stormed back for a 126-120 win. The Pacers used a big fourth quarter to earn a dramatic win over the Thunder on a Wesley Matthews' (man, he would've looked good in a Sixers uniform) putback with 1.8 seconds left.
The battle for the third seed
The good news is Boston remains 1 ½ games behind the Sixers. It's also good for the Sixers that Sacramento, who visits the Wells Fargo Center Friday night to close out a four-game East Coast swing, may have some tired legs after a hard-fought game Thursday night.
Give the Pacers credit - they just won't go away. With that said, the game vs. Oklahoma City was just the beginning of a brutal stretch for Indiana.
The Pacers will have to travel to Denver, Portland, L.A. - to play the better L.A. team - and Golden State over their next four. They return home for another game against the Nuggets before heading right back out on the road for a rematch with the Thunder and a game in Boston.
Up until this point, Indiana had one of the softest schedules in the league. That's about to change in a hurry. And with no Victor Oladipo, we'll see how long the Pacers can hang on.
The Celtics, on the other hand, don't exactly face a gauntlet to close out their season, but there a few tougher matchups sprinkled in. After playing the Hawks Saturday, they'll take on Denver followed by what should be a spirited game against the Sixers next Wednesday.
Out of the three teams vying for the Eastern Conference's third seed, the Sixers have the easiest schedule remaining. With 14 games left, they're truly in the driver's seat.
Projecting the third seed
As of this morning, the website FiveThirtyEight projects the Sixers' record at 52-30, which would put them behind the Bucks and Raptors and all alone in third. The Celtics are projected to finish 51-31 and the Pacers 49-33.
A win Friday night against a hungry Kings team that's trying to claw its way into the playoffs would pull the Sixers back even with the Pacers - who they beat 3-1 in the season series - and two full games ahead of the Celtics.
As Brett Brown said after Sunday's win over Indiana, "it's getting to be go time."
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