The Philadelphia 76ers could hardly be coming off a better win. The Charlotte Hornets might be coming off their worst loss.
They meet Tuesday night in Charlotte.
The Sixers have won four consecutive games, including Sunday's 130-125 victory at Milwaukee in which big man Joel Embiid scored 40 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished six assists as Philadelphia officially clinched a playoff berth.
The 76ers (45-25) will spend their final dozen games trying to fend off Indiana and Boston to hold onto the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
"I felt like we had to make a statement," Embiid told reporters after beating the NBA-best Bucks. "It was also a moment for us to see where we are at the moment. And I felt like everybody stepped up."
Charlotte is less secure about where it is, but at least it won't have to face Embiid, who will take Tuesday off because of load management while filling his tank to play Wednesday at home against the Boston Celtics.
The Hornets (31-38) are losing ground in their dog-paddle to the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, having lost three of their past four games and eight of 11.
A 93-75 loss at Miami on Sunday marked a season-low in points. Instead of tying Miami for the No. 8 spot in the East, Charlotte fell two games back.
Hornets All-Star guard Kemba Walker succinctly summed up his feelings after the game.
"It hurts," he said in the Charlotte Observer.
The missed opportunity is exacerbated when looking at the high hurdles in front of the Hornets.
After playing Philadelphia, Charlotte's three-game homestand finishes against Minnesota and Boston before the Hornets head on the road to play Toronto before hosting San Antonio. Minnesota has a losing record, but those other four opponents were a combined 76 games over .500 after Sunday.
And the Hornets also have to play at Golden State to end the month.
"We're still in it, you know?" Hornets coach James Borrego said Sunday night. "We're still in it. Most important game is on Tuesday. That's all we can control. We had our star opportunity today to make up ground, and we didn't do that. It's disappointing."
Charlotte collapsed in the fourth quarter against Miami, going 3-for-16 from the field -- missing all eight 3-point attempts -- and finishing with a season-low 31.3 percent shooting overall (26 of 83).
Walker cobbled together just 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting, as the Heat forced the ball out of his hands late in the game.
He'll need more help Tuesday night, while the Sixers will have to compensate for the absence of Embiid.
Philadelphia will be looking to complete a four-game season sweep of Charlotte, having won three close games -- two in overtime -- early in the season. The most recent matchup was Nov. 17.
Philadelphia, after trading for Tobias Harris last month and waiting for Embiid to return from injury, have used their "playoff lineup" of Harris, Embiid, Jimmy Butler, JJ Redick and Ben Simmons -- just seven times. They are 6-1 in those games.
"We are ready and we got so much more to do," Embiid said. "Still learning to play with each other. So we've got a long way to go."
--Field Level Media
76ers making move while Hornets hope to make theirs