March 11, 2012; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (12) shoots over Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) and power forward David West (21) during the first quarter of a game at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
The Indiana Pacers (36-22) didn't get any style points for sneaking out of Cleveland with an overtime win on Wednesday but the W looks just like all of the others in the win column. One more win (or a Milwaukee loss) and the Pacers will officially clinch a playoff berth.
The win on Wednesday also kept the Pacers in third place in the Eastern Conference, a spot in the standings that would deliver home-court advantage in a first round playoff series against the sixth seed. The Pacers have eight games remaining but there is still little margin for error if they want that home-court advantage.
The Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic are all just two games behind the Pacers. Since the Celtics are a lock for the Atlantic Division, the Pacers are really trying to fend off the Hawks and Magic. Neither team presents a better matchup for the Pacers than the other, at least on paper. Both teams have caused Indiana plenty of matchup problems in the recent past. Orlando has some severe internal issues that may make them appear a better option, but then again, they still have Dwight Howard and more than enough sharp shooters.
At least the Pacers control their own destiny at this point which means they need to continue winning when Cleveland comes to town on Friday. They also should take interest in the out of town scoreboard on Friday since Atlanta will be playing at Orlando. That may end up being the game that determines the Pacers first round opponent.
Although with just eight games to play, there is still a long way to go before the playoff picture is clear.