Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown reacts at the officials in the second half against the New York Knicks on January 22, 2014 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
With their feet firmly on the gas pedal, the Philadelphia 76ers head into their final game of the season riding their biggest winning streak in team history.
The only thing standing between the 76ers and the all-important No. 3 seed in the NBA's Eastern Conference playoff race: The Milwaukee Bucks, who travel to Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center for a game Wednesday.
With a win or a Cleveland loss to New York on Wednesday, the 76ers lock up the third spot. With a loss and a Cavaliers win, Philadelphia slips to the fourth spot, which means a probable second-round matchup with top-seed Toronto.
And the Sixers have done all this without Joel Embiid for the last two weeks, after their center went down with an orbital bone fracture, which may keep him out for the first games of the playoffs.
"We really haven't blinked," 76ers coach Brett Brown told Yahoo Sports. "I feel like the confidence I had was born out of facts and stats and certainly gut feel. The needle is moving in a direction that sort of makes you feel good about the underbelly of the program."
The 76ers enter the matchup riding a 15-game winning streak after a 121-113 victory at Atlanta on Tuesday. J.J. Redick had 28 points, and Ersan Ilyasova had 26 and Marco Belinelli had 20 points off the bench against the Hawks.
Ben Simmons, who is averaging nearly a triple-double since the beginning of March, had 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists Tuesday, and said he knows the importance of the big matchup.
"Especially because it's the last regular-season game," Simmons said. "For me, I want to come out and make a statement that we are ready. Obviously we're without [Joel Embiid] again, but we still have a great team."
It's not as if the Bucks have nothing to play for, however.
With a win or a Miami Heat loss to the Raptors on Wednesday, the Bucks can lock up the No. 6 seed and a first-round matchup with, yes, the 76ers. Ordinarily, that might be an obvious plus.
But with the second-seeded Boston Celtics facing a myriad of injuries, including Kyrie Irving's season-ending knee surgery, a lower seed may prove more beneficial.
"I'm not going to lose any sleep because, like I said, we put ourselves in a position to where we're in a pretty good position to determine where we want to be if that's what we want to do," Bucks center John Henson told reporters. "But we want to be the highest seed possible. That's the goal."
The Bucks meet the 76ers with a two-game winning streak and wins in three of four, with a surprising loss to Brooklyn on Thursday. Milwaukee defeated the Orlando Magic 102-86 on Monday. The Bucks outscored Orlando 57-44 in the second half, with Giannis Antetokounmpo out (ankle). His status is questionable for Wednesday.
"We definitely know we can't win the whole thing without [Antetokounmpo]," Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe told reporters. "But at the same time, we've got a lot of confident guys in the room. We're trying to get everybody on the same page because we're going to need everybody."