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LeBron's likely decision to sit and how it impacts the Pacers

In a roundabout way, LeBron may make it four straight seasons that he has eliminated the Pacers from the playoffs.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Pacers have won three straight games, but they still face an uphill climb if they want to earn a playoff berth. A climb made only steeper if LeBron James does indeed decide to take off his team's next two games against the Boston Celtics:

Trailing the Celtics (36-42) and Nets (36-42) by a full game, the Pacers' playoff hopes are dependent upon one of these two teams stumbling down the stretch. The likelihood of this occurring is, of course, diminished if the consensus best player in the world is watching from the sidelines.

As ESPN's Brian Windhorst points out here, it makes perfect sense for James to take advantage of the opportunity to get some much needed rest and relaxation before the start of the playoffs. Cleveland has already clinched the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and Sunday's game against Boston is on the first night of a back-to-back. Nonetheless, his decision to sit is likely to have a direct impact on the Pacers' playoff hopes, which means this may make the fourth straight season that James has had a hand in ending Indiana's season.

Here is how the race for No. 8 stands now, as indicated by data provided by NBA.com:

Rank Team W-L Conf. GB Strength of Schedule
7 Celtics 36-42 24-24 -- 0.612
8 Nets 36-42 22-26 -- 0.475
9 Pacers 35-43 26-24 1 0.515
10 Miami 35-43 23-25 1 0.399

Losing the head-to-head series with both Boston (3-1) and Brooklyn (2-1), Indiana would lose a tie with either the Celtics or the Nets. Inversely, Indiana holds the head-to-head tiebreaker with Miami, having gone 3-1 against the Heat. In the event that more than two teams finish tied, the team with the "better winning percentage in all games among the tied teams" would win out.

Below are the aggregate head-to-head win percentages:

Head-to-Head Results Celtics Nets Pacers Heat Win Percentage
Celtics -- 3-1 3-1 1-3 0.583
Nets 1-3 -- 2-1 0-4 0.273
Pacers 1-3 1-2 -- 3-1 0.455
Heat 3-1 4-0 1-3 -- 0.667

Based upon this information, a four-way tie would result in the Pacers (0.455) being on the outside of the playoff picture looking-in. A three-way tie between Boston, Brooklyn and Indiana would also result in the Blue & Gold having their season cut short, since the Pacers (0.286) have the worst win percentage in games against only Boston and Brooklyn. (Update: Since Boston, Miami and Indiana are all 4-4 against each other, the three-way tie would then be resolved by comparing each club's win percentage against teams in their own conference. As of now, the Pacers (0.520) have the best conference win percentage among those teams; however, all of Boston's remaining games are against teams in the Eastern Conference.)

Which means, though Boston should in no way see victories over the Cavaliers sans the team's best player as a gimme, LeBron's likely decision to sit out could force the Pacers the rest of the way into the lottery.

For more on the Eastern Conference playoff picture, hop over to SB Nation's tiebreaker guide.