After recording arguably their best win of the season, the Indiana Pacers will look to carry that momentum into a Saturday night matchup against the visiting Philadelphia 76ers.
Indiana (32-38) won for the fourth time in six games on Thursday, beating the host Milwaukee Bucks 139-123.
The Pacers now turn their attention toward another Eastern Conference power, Philadelphia (47-22), which has won seven straight.
Rookie Andrew Nembhard provided a spark on Thursday for the Pacers, who scored a season-high 84 second-half points and snapped a 10-game, head-to-head losing streak against the Bucks. Nembhard had a team-high 24 points in the victory.
Indiana enters Saturday’s game a half-game out of 10th place in the Eastern Conference with 12 games remaining. Teams seven through 10 will advance to the play-in tournament.
The win over Milwaukee was even more surprising considering that Indiana played without All-Star point guard Tyrese Haliburton and rookie Bennedict Mathurin, both of whom sat out due to right ankle sprains. Both will be sidelined again on Saturday.
With Haliburton out, Nembhard scored the second-most points of his career on Friday.
“He set the tone,” teammate T.J. McConnell said. “I’ve been singing his praises all year, and I will continue to do so throughout his career. Andrew is a special player. Everything we have asked from him this year, he’s done. He’s guarded the best players on defense. He set the tone for us tonight.”
Indiana has dropped its past five meetings against Philadelphia, including the first three matchups this season. Sixers star Joel Embiid scored 42 points in a 147-143 win over the Pacers on March 6.
Philadelphia is in the midst of playing seven road games in an eight-game span. The Sixers will complete a back-to-back set on Saturday, but the fact that they cruised to a 121-82 win over the host Charlotte Hornets on Friday allowed them to limit the starters’ minutes. James Harden logged a team-high 31.
Embiid finished with 38 points and 13 rebounds in just 29 minutes. He has at least 30 points in eight straight games.
“It’s awesome,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said. “He’s scoring, but he’s also dominating the game on the other end. He’s making the right passes, he’s including his teammates. Then defensively, he’s just been dominant.”
Harden contributed 11 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists for his fifth triple-double of the season. Tobias Harris added 18 points.
Philadelphia forward Jalen McDaniels has missed the past two games because of a right hip contusion and is listed as day-to-day.
The Sixers are third in the Eastern Conference and hold a four-game lead over the No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers with 13 games to play.
“We’ve got one of the hardest schedules remaining. It’s great for us,” Harden said. “Every game is a playoff atmosphere; it’s the intensity. The possessions, they count.”
The Sixers’ final stretch will continue against Indiana, which is being careful not to overreact after knocking off Milwaukee.
“It’s a big win, but you’ve got to keep things in perspective,” Pacers center Myles Turner said. “It’s a game-by-game basis. We’re at the end of the year here and know these games matter. These games count. That’s our mentality going forward. It’s a big win for morale, but the job is not finished. We still have a lot of climbing to do.”