3/16 Game Preview: 76ers at Celtics

A season-high win streak has put the Boston Celtics on the cusp of moving into playoff position but they don't have the easiest schedule the rest of the way.

That could make having a healthier Isaiah Thomas more important than ever.

With Thomas potentially returning Monday night, Boston will try to boost its hopes by sweeping the season series from the lowly Philadelphia 76ers and securing their longest win streak in two seasons.

Boston (29-36) has cut a two-game deficit for the Eastern Conference's final postseason spot down to a half-game after winning six of seven. The Celtics pulled within one game of seventh-place Indiana by snapping the Pacers' seven-game winning streak with Saturday's 93-89 victory.

"Tough games really help your team out especially late in the season when you're trying to make a playoff push," forward Jae Crowder said. "We know it's going to be tough, but we'll stick with it."

Indiana leads a group of five teams that are in serious contention for the East's last two berths. The Celtics have the same record as Miami and are 2 1/2 games ahead of Brooklyn.

They'll face the four other teams in their final 16 games and play only three contests against clubs that are well out of playoff contention. Boston will take on Atlantic Division-leading Toronto and Central Division-leading Cleveland twice in that closing stretch.

The Celtics could get some assistance from a healthier Thomas, who has missed the past three games because of back and elbow injuries. The guard is averaging 21.4 points and 5.4 assists in his 10 contests with Boston after being acquired from Phoenix on Feb. 19.

Since 2012-13, Thomas' 21.2 scoring average in six games against the 76ers is tied for his best against any team. However, he had 12 versus Philadelphia for the Suns on Jan. 2.

The Celtics, who went 1-3 last season against a 76ers team that finished 19-63, are trying to go 4-0 in the season series for the first time since 2008-09. They're also seeking their first five-game win streak since Feb. 25-March 8, 2013.

The Celtics have won this season's three meetings by a combined 40 points but nearly blew a 21-point lead in the second half Feb. 6 in Boston before pulling away for a 107-96 win, among their eight in the past nine home games.

The 76ers (15-51) took a 94-87 loss to Brooklyn on Saturday but had won two of their previous three with the lone defeat coming in overtime to Chicago. They claimed the first of those wins over East-leading Atlanta 92-84 on March 7 but have lost 13 in a row on the road.

Another defeat would give Philadelphia its fourth-longest losing streak away from home in franchise history and its longest since a 15-game skid in 2012-13. The 76ers, averaging league lows of 91.0 points and 40.8 percent shooting, will face a team that's improved defensively since the last meeting.

Boston is yielding 92.0 points per game in last seven games, 10.8 fewer than in its first 58.


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