After weeks of struggles, the Indiana Pacers have reached the goal they set out for before this season began: being the top team in the Eastern Conference.
The Pacers have finally clinched that honor, as the Washington Wizards defeat the Miami Heat 114-93 in Washington. Indiana's win on Sunday, coupled with Miami's lose tonight, gives Indiana a one game advantage in the Eastern Conference standings with one game remaining. Indiana at 55-26 holds the conference record tiebreaker over the 54-27 Heat, ensuring the Pacers will receive home court throughout the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
The Heat opted to rest LeBron James and Chris Bosh for tonight's game, which favored Washington in a game they dominated. The Wizards scored 43 points in the second quarter and led 98-65 after three, shooting 59% for the game and assisting on 36 of their 46 field goals.
The Miami loss not only locks up the #1 seed in the East for the Pacers, but will guarantee Indiana a first round rematch with the Atlanta Hawks. The Pacers finished 2-2 against the Hawks this season, their historical struggles against the Hawks continuing well into this season, including their woeful 107-88 loss a week ago. While Indiana will still play out the regular season finale in Orlando tomorrow night, they will be looking ahead to another difficult series with Atlanta, the Pacers having dispatched of the Hawks 4-2 in last year's first round.
It will mark the sixth time in franchise history the Pacers will have taken the top seed into the playoffs; they were #1 in the ABA's Eastern Division in 1969 and 1970, the Western Division in 1971, and topped the NBA's Eastern Conference in 2000 and 2004.