The glaring negative derived from seeing the Pacers clinch the top seed in the East on Monday was the path they appeared to have in front of them which, at the time, included playing Atlanta, then the winner of a Chicago/Brooklyn series. If they could survive those troubled waters, the Heat would be waiting for them in the Eastern Conference Finals after avoided all of the experienced playoff teams on their side of the bracket.
Then Tuesday happened.
Suddenly, the Nets dropping to the six seed is in play while the Bulls could still jump to the three seed and flip this whole playoff narrative on its head. All that has to happen on Wednesday is the Nets lose at Cleveland, Wizards beat Boston, Raptors lose at Knicks, and Bulls beat Charlotte and then the Pacers would have a second round series against the winner of a Raptors/Wizards series.
For the record, I love this subplot to close out the regular season. Bob Kravitz took issue with how the Pacers and Heat have closed out the regular season by not so subtly trying to finish in the East's second slot, describing the whole process as distasteful.
I call it strategic.
If you set yourself up in the regular season to dictate terms of your playoff matchups then more power to you. The Pacers favor their home court advantage more than any other team in the NBA. Makes sense, considering they have the best home record in the league. Meanwhile, the Heat have yet to beat the Nets, so of course they would prefer avoiding them as long as possible in their playoff journey.
But... not the Nets are the linchpin to the last day drama since they have been the best team in the East over the last half of the season. Usually, the best teams float to the top of the bracket by the end of the season, but that's not the case this year. And now, the Nets are either running out of juice or trying to have their cake and eat it to while working from the middle of the standings. Quite impressive. Keep in mind, Brooklyn is 4-0 against the Heat this year and 0-4 against the Pacers.
There's also the 'careful what you wish for' theory in play for the Pacers. The Raptors have been a brutal matchup with Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross enjoying their matchups against the Pacers at times this year. Still, this Raptors' team (nor Wizards, should they beat Toronto) have playoff experience which usually comes into play. The Pacers are built for the playoffs and have acute awareness of what to expect. Playing a team with limited playoff experience would be a bonus.
Then all the Pacers have to do is win.
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