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Pacers Links: Stakes rise for second place Pacers

Ready or not the Pacers are sitting on some prime real estate heading into the stretch run of the regular season.

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The Indiana Pacers begin a tough stretch of games this week after moving into second place in the Eastern Conference over the weekend.

Even the sunniest of preseason predictions didn't have the Pacers rising this high in the East, let alone without the services of Danny Granger for four months of the season. So far the Pacers have been able to work through challenging stretches of the schedule without a significant free fall while taking care of the games they should win and, of course, protecting their home court. That last part makes the second seed in the playoffs so important, since the longer the Pacers can go into the playoffs with home court advantage the better.

Looking ahead at the next five games reveals another challenging stretch of games, but four of those tests will be at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers visit on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively. Then the Pacers head to Toronto on Friday to play the Raptors. Forget looking at stat sheets, we know the Raptors can present the Pacers problems. The Pacers return home to finish the five-game set against the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics, a pair of likely playoff opponents.

The Pacers almost had a perfect night off to create a little room in the standings, but the New York Knicks beat the Philadelphia 76ers to draw back within a half game of the blue and gold. The Brooklyn Nets and Bulls both lost to slip back in the playoff race. The Bulls are now three games behind the Pacers and currently sixth in the East, were the playoffs to start today.

That shows how quickly things can change and how the Pacers have to maintain their currently high level of play just to maintain their spot near the top of the East. Any let up and the fall will be swift, with no mercy for youthful inexperience or injuries that may get in the way.

Check out the links:

Granger’s back! Now what? | 1070 The Fan – Opinion & Analysis

Granger says sitting out was 'kind of depressing' but he's ready for Pacers' stretch run | Indianapolis Star |

Poole: Golden State Warriors can't count on Andrew Bogut during NBA playoff push - San Jose Mercury News

Bulls notes: Gibson injured in loss | CSN Chicago

NBA scores: Lakers edge Mavericks, Heat come back to beat Cavaliers -

Bynum suspended 1 game for striking Hansbrough - AP

Warriors’ Andrew Bogut (back) out indefinitely | The Point Forward -

Pacers, volunteers to pack kid meals - WISH-TV

Klay Thompson is better than you think - Golden State Of Mind

Pacers Posse: A FAMbase: Pacers - Trade Deadline and Beyond