76ers Vs. Pacers Preview: Spencer Hawes Returns

February 24, 2012; Orlando FL, USA; Team Chuck guard Paul George of the Indiana Pacers (24) during the second half of the BBVA rising stars challenge against Team Shaq at the Amway Center in Orlando. Team Chuck defeated Team Shaq 146-133. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Evan Turner and the Philadelphia 76ers will take their talents to Indiana on Wednesday to face the Pacers, with both teams fighting for position to seize home-court advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Thanks to the insertion of ET into the starting lineup, the Sixers have won three consecutive games. Meanwhile, prior to defeating the Blazers on Tuesday, the Pacers had lost four straight.

The Sixers and Pacers have met once this season, with the Sixers winning by eight in front of their home crowd. However; that game was played more than two months ago, and a lot has changed since then. For one, the Pacers were without Danny Granger and George Hill – who are both expected to play tonight. Also, the Sixers had big number double-zero starting at center that night. Hawes – who's missed 26 of the last 28 games – is expected to return to the starting lineup on Wednesday.

Tonight's game could have serious playoff implications for both teams. The Sixers are 25-17 on the season, while the Pacers are 24-16. Both teams trail the Orlando Magic – who appear likely to trade Dwight Howard before Thursday's Trade Deadline, thus becoming a candidate to plummet in the standings. If Dwight departs, the third seed in the Eastern Conference could be there for the taking, for either the Pacers or Sixers.

From a team statistical standpoint, the Pacers aren't spectacular in any area, nor are they terribly bad in any area. The Pacers biggest strengths are probably their youth and depth, which also represent strengths for the Sixers, and with Spencer Hawes returning, the deep just got deeper.

Because of his size, Roy Hibbert could potentially pose a problem for the Sixers, but Paul George and Danny Granger are likely to have relatively quiet nights against some combination of Evan Turner, Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young.

The Sixers haven't played since Sunday, when they smashed the Knicks, while the Pacers played last night. However; the Pacers won't have to travel – because both last night's and tonight's game are home games – and they blew the Blazers out on Tuesday, which limited all their starters minutes. So despite playing the second game of a back-to-back, the Pacers should be pretty well-rested.

All things considered, I expect the Sixers to continue their winning ways. Hopefully the return of Hawes won't mess with Evan Turner's new-found studness.

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