The Pacers eventually took care of business in overtime to beat the Celtics on Friday night in the first of five consecutive games against sub-.500 teams, as their schedule begins to ease a bit after a rough first two months.
The Pacers are one of three teams in the East (Detroit, Philadelphia) who have played half of their games against Western Conference competition. The Pacers have also played four more games on the road than at home so far which has their schedule ranked fourth toughest in the fluctuating NBA strength of schedule rankings.
The schedule and injuries have made for a challenging start to the season, but the Pacers remain in the thick of the quagmire that is the playoff race in the East. Prior to playing the Celtics, Frank Vogel admitted they were hoping to take advantage of the five-game stretch against sub-.500 teams (@Philly, Minnesota, Detroit, @Charlotte).
"My message to the team was, yeah, we've got a stretch of teams with sub-.500 records but we're nine games under .500," Vogel said. "So that's not a way to look and say that we're way better than these teams, it's just there are some opportunities that we need to try to take advantage of."
The Pacers have been playing better of late regardless of competition, winning six of their last 10 games. While several players are dealing with nagging injuries, most have been able to play through it, as they did last night to beat Boston. Even if they don't make it back to .500 for the season, winning a few more than the lose the rest of the way should be enough to make the post-season.
According to ESPN's Hollinger playoff odds, the Pacers are almost a lock with almost an 80 percent chance to make the playoffs which would make them a six seed. Those projections are based in part on the schedule falling in the Pacers' favor compared to other teams for the remainder of the season. Now all they have to do is take advantage of the opportunities and the current stretch of games could jump-start a strong finish.