The Indiana Pacers are peaking as the season winds down, and a few more wins could lock them into the No. 3 seed and give them a chance to earn some rest before the playoffs.
If the Philadelphia 76ers don't get their act together quickly, they'll be in line for some rest once the postseason begins.
The surging Pacers look for their sixth straight win and 10th in 11 games Tuesday night when they visit the 76ers, who have lost six of eight in April and are clinging to a playoff spot heading into their final home game.
The top two in the Eastern Conference have been clearly defined all season, but only in April has Indiana (39-22) emerged as a clear No. 3 behind Chicago and Miami.
The Pacers have won nine of 10 this month and hold a three-game lead on Boston, Atlanta and Orlando for the third spot. Though their five consecutive wins have all been against teams on the outside of the playoff picture, they should be well rested for this trip to Philadelphia after no starter played more than 26 minutes in Monday's 111-88 rout of Minnesota.
"We came out with the killer instinct tonight,' coach Frank Vogel said. "That set the tone for us. That's what we want to go into the playoffs with.'
David West led the way with 22 points and 10 rebounds in a game Indiana led by as many as 37 late in the first half.
"I think the biggest thing is that we continue to build good habits,' said West, who scored 20 for the first time since March 6. "We're coming out and trying to make the right play every single time. I think that's imperative for us. We continue the momentum we're starting to build and hopefully, we'll be playing some of our best ball a week-and-a-half from now.'
The 76ers (31-29) had a great opportunity to seize control of the seventh seed in the East on Monday, but couldn't take advantage of an Orlando team missing Dwight Howard and Glen Davis. Philadelphia led 27-21 after one quarter but allowed 92 points over the final 3 - 3.7 more than their league-best average for a game - in a 113-100 loss.
"They just shot the lights out,' coach Doug Collins said. "They really did.'
The Sixers dropped into an eighth-place tie with the Knicks, who own the head-to-head tiebreaker, but their big concern should be the team behind them. Milwaukee trails Philadelphia by two games, but the 76ers visit the Bradley Center on April 25 for a game that will determine that season series and perhaps the No. 8 seed.
That contest is one of five straight on the road - where Collins' team is 5-12 since Feb. 15 - to close the season, making Tuesday's home finale all the more significant.
The Sixers beat Indiana 96-86 at Wells Fargo Center on Jan. 9 behind 20 points from Andre Iguodala, but they've lost three straight on their home court - including embarrassing defeats to Toronto and New Jersey.
The Pacers fared much better in the teams' most recent meeting, shooting a then season-high 56.6 percent in a 111-94 home win March 14 as West scored 18 and Danny Granger had 20.
A win Tuesday would give Indiana five straight on the road in a single season for the first time since March 2-12, 2004.
Philadelphia leading scorer Lou Williams (15.0 points per game) has averaged 9.0 on 32.3 percent shooting in his last three games against the Pacers.
The Associated Press News Service
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