There’s a silver lining in this whole six game losing streak.
Wait a second. No, there isn’t!
But there is a positive outlook to take from the recent struggles that could ultimately mean good things for the team as it pertains to how the schedule plays out in the Pacers favor over the second half of the year. It's easy to get down on the team and the season, but with half a year left, there's no reason to simply give up. Situations are always changing. Here’s a quick breakdown at how the Pacers have fared against above and below .500 teams over the course of the first 42 games:
Below .500 W-L: 11-9 (7-3 home, 4-6 road)
Above .500 W-L: 5-17 (3-8 home, 2-9 road)
So, basically, the less above .500 teams the Pacers play the better. That’s common sense, of course, but fortunately, Indiana is only going to run into a buzzsaw 16 more times, versus 24 games against like-minded opponents. The Pacers may have slipped from their haven in the seventh spot to the tenth, but there’s a lot of time to make up what little ground needs to be made up to ensure that oh-so-escapable postseason berth the team has been searching out for a few years now.
But if we assume any trades the team makes are marginal and the second half plays out to the first half as a whole, one can expect the Pacers to finish out the year roughly about the same place they had the past few years. If we give the Pacers wins at their first half rate, the team will can see themselves finishing 18-22, for a 34-48 record, likely a few games shy of the postseason.
Okay, so maybe that didn’t go exactly as planned, but the Pacers still aren’t as bad a team as they played in the second quarter of the season (or maybe they are?). The good news for those hoping for a shot at a return to playoff basketball is that there’s little to suggest the team won’t benefit from a positive spring fling as teams out of the race or already in the race look forward to whatever destiny they’ve accepted for themselves. In fact, the second half as a whole should provide that kind of opportunity.
We can’t know how the Pacers are going to play from night to night, but we do know that Jim O’Brien never says die, and will be looking to win games as other teams simply aren’t. So where do the ultimate keys to success lie? Protecting the home court, of course! Indiana has faired well at home over past few years despite horrible road records, and seeing as this season is ultimately turning into that (contrary to the positive road start), improving the standing at home will be extra important when any win on the road is far from a lock.
Indiana plays twelve of these home games against below .500 teams. Each one of these games realistically needs to be a win in order to ensure the team’s best opportunity in the final standings. At the very least, if I assume 34-48 is where this team will realistically end up at season’s ending, that is at a 9-3 rate. Quite simply, if the Pacers can’t take advantage of teams like New Jersey or Toronto at home, as will be the test in the coming days, they will be fully deserving of sitting at home for a franchise long fifth year.
With the wins at home, the focus shifts to road wins against below .500 teams. Another 12 games against teams who are in a similar situation of thinking, "If we can’t win against Indiana of all teams at home…" At their current rate, it’s realistic to expect Indiana to finish 5-7 in these games. This is where the Pacers have to be able to make up the most ground.
The good news is the team’s only road win in the past two months came against Philadelphia, who came into the game a little bit of a different team than the Pacers saw at the beginning of the year. While this does little to numb the pain of the fourth quarter meltdowns in Los Angeles, Oakland, and Portland, it can hopefully mean good things against teams without reliable, that is, big time scorers in teams of the East. In fact, despite all the struggles, Indiana has finished a little better in road games against below .500 teams in the East overall, going 3-3, even if two of their worst road losses (Philly, Washington) are on that little resume.
While 60% of the remaining schedule is against teams that are every bit as flawed as the Pacers are, there are still 16 games remaining against winning teams. And that’s where the biggest concerns for finishing out the season lie. Eight at home, eight on the road…what exactly is a fair guess for how the Pacers end up against teams who generally care on a night to night basis? With how they’ve fared, that allows a 4-12 record.
Getting four wins against winning teams? That’s a tough order, you do know that? Again…it’s going to be about Indiana doing the best they can in games these contender worthy squads are still in contention for a spot. Towards the end of the season, they’ll have a chance to grab a couple of wins as these teams focus on their playoff run. Road vs. home is a little irrelevant in this case. I think the Pacers have to get at least four wins against winning these teams.
So as a final rundown: don’t pull the plug on the season yet. This is all made with the assumption the Pacers don’t make any big moves at the deadline, and this team can still get in as is. The growth of the young guys, a flux in opponent interests, and improbability of injuries can give the Pacers the kind of boost they need to push into the postseason and hopefully renew some interest in the franchise moving forward, even if they’ve done their fair share of squandering plenty in the past couple of weeks.