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76ers coach Brett Brown: The Celtics ‘still may be the team to beat’

76ers coach Brett Brown says he thinks the Celtics are still the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.Matt Slocum/Associated Press/Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia 76ers and Celtics are in different places right now.

Philadelphia is still basking in the glow of its trade-deadline deal that brought the 76ers gifted forward Tobias Harris to their starting lineup.

The 76ers entered Tuesday’s matchup with Boston 2-0 since the trade.

The Celtics had been reeling after blowing consecutive large leads to the Lakers and Clippers, but they were able to recvover against the 76ers with a 112-109 victory Tuesday night.

Sixers coach Brett Brown has great respect for the Celtics, who have beaten his team three times this season. Most of all, he wanted to face the Celtics with Kyrie Irving, who missed Tuesday’s game because of a sore right knee.


“It was like Toronto when Kawhi [Leonard] wasn’t available; I wish we could play them with Kyrie; I hope he’s OK,” Brown said.

“I don’t seek out to deliver that message [that this is an important game] to these guys. We sort of come in and stay steady. They understand it’s the Boston Celtics. I’m not feeling like the overreaction. I’m more excited to play Boston. I wish Kyrie was here.”

The Celtics have won 10 of the past 12 meetings with the 76ers, including a 4-1 playoff series win last spring.

Philadelphia center Joel Embiid said it’s not a rivalry until the 76ers consistently begin winning. So Tuesday was their opportunity to make a statement.

“It’s a game in February. It’s an incredible opportunity for us to learn,” Brown said. “It’s all about how you get ready to try, if we’re able come against them in the playoffs and be better than we were against them last year. I see the world that cleanly.”

The Celtics have 25 games left to make a surge in the Eastern Conference. If not, they could be on the road in the first round of the playoffs. Brown still views Boston as the favorite.


“They are still in my eyes, still may be the team to beat,” he said. “I have a lot of time for them. When they win they turn people over and, I think, when they win they hunt threes. They really are good at producing threes. You go back to that game on Christmas Day, we had 19 turnovers. It’s too many. They had 41 threes [attempts]. That’s too many. At the end of regulation, J.J. [Redick] is wide open, we had a chance to win the game, but we didn’t.”

Meanwhile, the 76ers will host the Celtics again on March 20, and Wells Fargo Center was rocking Tuesday.

“To dismiss a home-court advantage in the city of Philadelphia and in my opinion, most places, would be wrong,” Brown said. “I love playing here. Look at our record at home.

“How about the atmosphere we have had in the past few days. You can just feel an energy that comes into our team from our fans. You feel the energy in the building.

“I feel like this is the third team that I’ve coached this year and I feel great that it’s the best team.”

Irving stays home

Irving did not make the trip to Philadelphia, and Celtics coach Brad Stevens said the guard was not able to play, so it was best for him to stay in Boston and rehabilitate. It’s uncertain whether Irving will play Wednesday at TD Garden against Detroit or whether this injury could affect his availability for Sunday’s All-Star Game.


After the questions that bubbled to the surface in the wake of the bad losses to the Los Angeles teams, Stevens said he wasn’t worried about how his team would respond.

“We have to play exceptionally well to have a chance to win,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. As far as competing and doing the things we need to do, I think we would come out and play really hard.

“We were on a really good stretch of games there prior to the last two. Those two we let slip away and the problem with the last two is the stretch that’s coming up. That’s ultimately where we put ourselves in that position.

“We just have to focus on playing hard, playing well, playing together, and then everything else takes care of itself and that’s all I’m looking forward to.”

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.