at Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pa., 7 p.m. | CSN, WEEI (850 AM)
PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Close Encounters: The 76ers have played the Celtics tough in the teams' first two meetings this season. Boston holds a 2-0 record in those contests, but only won the games by an average margin of 2.5 points. The last time these two teams met in Philadelphia, it took a memorable Rajon Rondo-to-Kevin Garnett alley-oop lay-in with 1.4 seconds to play for the Celtics to emerge with a 102-101 victory. Will things play out as dramatically this time around? To their credit, the Sixers are playing well right now, as they've won seven of their last nine games.
Starting Block: The Celtics' starters came out lethargic in the opening quarter in Boston's loss to the Clippers on Wednesday and the result was a 13-point deficit heading into the second frame. The first five took acceptance for the Celtics' defeat, but will they atone for their efforts against L.A. with a more energized opening against Philadelphia?
Clean the Glass: Kevin Garnett's rebounding resurgence was a hot topic at the start of the season, and not surprisingly, his superior efforts on the boards have translated to wins for Boston. The Celtics are 20-5 this season when Garnett grabs 10 or more rebounds. In the first two meetings between these clubs, Garnett grabbed just six and seven rebounds, respectively. The Sixers, meanwhile, had at least one player grab double-digit rebounds against Boston as Andre Iguodala pulled down 11 in the first meeting and Elton Brand Hauled in 12 in the second meeting.
GAME PREVIEW (via Stats Inc.)
In a possible first-round playoff preview, the 76ers could make a big statement Friday night by handing the Celtics their first loss in Philadelphia in nearly four years.
Boston (46-16) has been atop the East virtually all season following its trip to last year's NBA finals. Philadelphia (33-31) shared the conference's third-worst record last season and wasn't expected to do much better in coach Doug Collins' first season, particularly after a 3-13 start.
However, the 76ers have gone 16-6 since Jan. 21 -- the only East team with a better record in that span is Chicago (16-4) -- to climb to seventh in the conference. If they stay in that spot, they could open the playoffs against a Boston team which is at risk of falling to second because the Bulls have moved within 1 1/2 games.
Both meetings between these teams came in December and the Sixers lost both but put up a good fight, falling by a combined five points. The Celtics are 12-2 versus the 76ers since their Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce was formed in the 2007-08 season, including victories in all seven visits to Philadelphia.
The Sixers' only three losses in their last 10 home games came to three of the league's top eight teams record-wise -- Orlando, Dallas and Oklahoma City. They nearly knocked off the visiting Thunder on Wednesday, blowing a five-point lead in the final minute of regulation and losing 110-105 in overtime.
"I thought our guys did a terrific job," Collins said after his team's three-game winning streak was snapped. "I thought we were one play away from winning the game. That is the first one that has gotten away from us like that in a long time."
Read the full preview HERE.