With eleven games left in the season, the Indiana Pacers are trying to figure out how to finish the season strong with their quest for a playoff spot appearing out of reach. Even Jim O'Brien acknowledges the math equation is improbable, as he did after the Charlotte game on Saturday.
"If you're not going to make the playoffs -- and it would take a minor miracle and a complete fold by teams ahead of us -- play for pride," Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said. "Pride is not a bad thing to play for. I think our guys know they've worked very hard this year. The best way to reward themselves is to play every game like it's the first round of the playoffs. We played with a great deal of focus."
Let's say the Saturday's roster shake up had legs and kept the Pacers playing at a high level through the end of the year. They would still need to finish the season 9-2 to consider sneaking into the playoffs. With only one game in six days this week, the Pacers should be rested and ready to finish the season strong, but even if they play at a high level, only losing two of the final eleven would require a monumental, out of character performance from a team that hasn't been able to string together three straight wins.
Looking at the remaining opponents, JOB's reality is based on trying to blow through, Miami, Chicago twice (road/home), San Antonio, @Atlanta, Detroit and Cleveland with only two losses. Of course, the way this season has gone, the Pacers could sweep those playoff teams and then lose to Washington, Oklahoma City and Toronto and it wouldn't surprise any of us.
So what are the Pacers playing for?
As JOB mentioned the team will be playing for pride which means showing up every day, working hard and leaving your best effort on the court. The team has made strides attracting the attention of fans who are paying attention. Going to watch the Pacers this year has been a blast despite so many hard-luck losses.The last thing the team wants to do is roll over to finish the season and wipe away all of the positives they built up this year.
Then there's the individual implications as more changes are likely in the offseason. Between expiring contracts and potential trades, I wouldn't consider many roster spots safe heading into the offseason. That should motivate the players to continue to prove their worth whether it be for the Pacers or some other team in the league. Once again, I'd love to see the rookies play as much as possible. Roy Hibbert has struggled lately, but I'm still trying to figure out why he didn't play more minutes in Charlotte when there were plenty of garbage time minutes available. Every trip Roy makes up and down the court is an opportunity for him to improve.
Ideally, the Pacers will spill their guts every night, play at a high level and give Roy Hibbert and Brandon Rush as many minutes as possible, yet the team will still lose enough to remain in the top ten of the NBA draft. That's my ideal situation, but first and foremost I want to see the players on the court finish the season strong and use every opportunity to improve. Take advantage of every possession and then at the end of the game we'll deal with the scoreboard.