Philly Sports Live

Sinking Sixers face tough test in Boston

A disastrous stretch by Philadelphia has the Boston Celtics poised to take full control of the Atlantic Division when the two historic rivals meet in Beantown on Easter Sunday.

The Sixers started the season 20-9 but have gone just 9-17 since and are now teetering on the brink after another setback against Orlando on Saturday. That coupled with Boston’s win at Indiana gave the Celtics a season-high two-game lead in the Atlantic.

Dwight Howard scored 20 points and pulled down 22 rebounds and the Magic avoided their first six-game losing streak in more than six years with an 88-82 win over the 76ers.

None of the five Sixers starters scored in double digits. Thaddeus Young had a team-high 20 points and Jodie Meeks scored 11 of his 16 during a big run in the first half that gave Philadelphia a 10-point lead. But the Sixers faltered down the stretch again and dropped their third straight.

Embattled coach Doug Collins hinted changes may be coming to his struggling starting lineup.

“We can’t keep digging ourselves a hole like that, just can’t do it,” the coach said.

Philadelphia, which once looked like a lock to make the postseason is now anything but, leading the eighth seed in the East, New York, by one game and No. 9 Milwaukee by 1 1/2.

To make matters even worse for the sinking Sixers, nine of their last 11 games are on the road, where they are 10-14 on the season.

Boston, meanwhile, took a huge stop toward securing its fifth straight Atlantic crown by stifling the Pacers, 86-72, in Indianapolis on Saturday.

Paul Pierce scored 24 points in that one as the Celtics cruised to the victory.

Ray Allen came off the bench and netted 19 points, while Kevin Garnett registered 15 points and seven rebounds for Boston, which snapped a two-game skid with their sixth win in eight tries.

“I loved how competitive we were,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “In a game where shots are not going in and we still won the game, that means you can trust your defense on nights your offense doesn’t work.”

The Sixers have topped Boston twice in the City of Brotherly Love this season but have lost in five of their last six visits to Beantown.