The 76ers put themselves in a good position.
Their victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday gave them a 2-1 series edge over their Atlantic Division opponent. As a result, the Sixers (38-17) hold the tiebreaker and will get the higher playoff seed if the teams finish with the same record.
But the Eastern Conference’s first-place squad knows the tiebreaker might not matter if it starts losing. The Nets (37-18) are a game behind and are getting several of their key sidelined players back besides LaMarcus Aldridge, who abruptly retired Thursday after experiencing an irregular heartbeat.
Even without him, Brooklyn should be fine during its manageable remaining 17 games. The Sixers, meanwhile, have a tough slate.
“As I’ve said, and we’ve continued to say all year, we just have to handle our business night in and night out,” Tobias Harris said. “Obviously, here we have a good stretch of games versus some very good teams that are going to push us. We have to be ready for the challenge every single night and bring it.
“So it’s good to have that type of challenge, and we need to embrace it.”
One would argue that the Sixers had better embrace it.
Starting Friday night, six of their next eight games are against teams ranked in the top four of their respective conferences.
They’ll entertain the Western Conference’s third-place Los Angeles Clippers on Friday at the Wells Fargo Center. Then they’ll host the Golden State Warriors on Monday and the West’s second-place Phoenix Suns on Wednesday. The next night, the Sixers will play the first of a two-game road series against the East’s third-place Milwaukee Bucks. The teams’ second game will be on April 24.
Then the Sixers cap the month with three straight home games: against the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 26 and two games against the East’s fourth-place Atlanta Hawks on April 28 and 30.
The Clippers (39-18) are riding the league’s longest current winning streak at seven games. They defeated the Sixers, 122-112, on March 27 at the Staples Center in Doc Rivers’ first game against his former team. Philly was without Joel Embiid, who was sidelined with a bone bruise in his left knee.
On that night, Kawhi Leonard paced the Clippers with 28 points. He was one of five double-digit scorers for the Clippers. Terance Mann added 23 points on 10-for-12 shooting in a reserve role. Los Angeles shot 52.9% from the field and 42.3% on three-pointers.
Harris had a game-high 29 points in the loss. Danny Green added 17 points while making 5 of 9 three-pointers. Shake Milton had 16 points off the bench.
However, Harris is less than 100 percent this time around.
The power forward is dealing with right knee soreness and was subbed out of Wednesday’s 123-117 win over the Nets with 3 minutes, 37 seconds left. He was limping after banging his knee in a collision with Embiid. Harris said pain in his knee limited him in the fourth quarter, when he had seven points on 2-for-5 shooting. He finished the game with 26 points.
“So it’s just kind of a day-by-day thing,” Harris said, “and give myself as much rest and taking proper care of my knee treatment-wise so I can feel better.”
Harris and Sixers reserve center Dwight Howard (sore left knee) are listed as questionable for the game. George Hill (right thumb recovery) remains sidelined. Meanwhile, Leonard is questionable with a sore right foot. Clippers point guard Patrick Beverley (fractured left hand) and post player Serge Ibaka (lower-back tightness) will both miss the game.