The Indiana Pacers (37-33) clinched their 27th consecutive winning season at home with a 91-75 win against the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, but they still have plenty of work to do to secure a playoff berth down the stretch. Wednesday's night off brought mixed results for the Blue & Gold. On the upside, the Washington Wizards (35-36) dipped below .500 with a double-digit loss to the Atlanta Hawks, and the Chicago Bulls (36-34) gave the New York Knicks their first victory in four games. On the downside, the Detroit Pistons (38-34) moved ahead of the Pacers in the win-column with a commanding, 118-102, win over the Orlando Magic.
With the No. 7 spot far from guaranteed, ignoring the standings to focus solely on the next game is easier said than done.
"Obviously, every time you pick up your phone it's there," Vogel told the Indy Star's Nate Taylor of the Eastern Conference's playoff picture. "We know where we stand and it just comes down to taking care of our business."
Standings have Pacers checking their six (in more ways than one)...
Since Indiana can't erase past losses as they try to build momentum, adding wins is imperative to gaining ground on the Pistons, Bulls, and Wizards.
"Chicago has a pretty favorable schedule; Detroit has a pretty favorable schedule," George told the Indy Star. "We don't have the feeling right now that our spot is guaranteed. We should have a little pressure and hopefully that helps us perform better."
Take a look at the four-team race for the No. 7 and 8 spots.
And here's the four-team logjam for spots 3-6.
Keeping an eye out for the surging Charlotte Hornets (No. 6), who boast the East's best winning percentage post All-Star break, would behoove the Pacers if they want to give themselves a fighting chance in the playoffs. Buzz City presents a nightmarish match-up for Indiana's hybrid starting lineup.
The Hornets won all three meetings with the Pacers this season, as the Blue & Gold appeared indecisive with their coverage of the 1-5 pick-and-roll and were slow to recover to Charlotte's slew of stretch shooters. Still struggling to defend spread lineups, such a hypothetical match-up would likely necessitate relying more on Solomon Hill and less on the starting lineup with which the team has experienced the most success this season.
Put simply, if the Hornets happen to surge to No. 3 in the standings, staying at No. 7 would probably be just fine with the Indiana Pacers.
If the season ended today...
The Pacers, coincidentally, would be opening the playoffs at the same arena where they tipped off the regular season: the Air Canda Centre. The Raptors (2-1) currently lead the season series between the two teams; however, with 27 lead changes across the three meetings, gaining the edge over Indiana has not been easy.
Thus far, both teams have shown themselves to be equally capable of building and surrendering double-digit leads. Toronto fought its way out of a 16-point hole back on October 28 and the Pacers transformed a 21-point deficit into a 16-point victory on December 14. The most recent game (3/17) in the series was ultimately determined at the free throw line, where the Raptors connected on 30-of-38 free throw attempts and Indiana missed seven gimmes including a go-ahead freebie on the team's final possession of regulation, resulting in a seven-point overtime loss for the Pacers.
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers (51-20) vs. (8) Detroit Pistons (38-34)
(2) Toronto Raptors (48-22) vs. (7) Indiana Pacers (37-33)
(3) Atlanta Hawks (42-30) vs. (6) Charlotte Hornets (41-30)
In the event of a tie....
With the Miami Heat: The season series between the Heat and Pacers is tied at 2-2. Moving on to the next tiebreaker, Miami (8-5) with three Southeast Division games remaining has the advantage over Indiana (6-7) with three games left against the Central Division.
With the Charlotte Hornets: Winning the season series 3-0, the Hornets hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.
With the Detroit Pistons: The Pacers hold the head-to-head win-loss percentage tiebreak having beaten the Pistons 3-1 this season.
With the Chicago Bulls: The Pacers have one game remaining with the Bulls to determine the head-to-head win-loss percentage tiebreak on March 29 with the opportunity to tie the series at 2-2. If Indiana wins, then the tie would be determined by division record. Chicago (7-5) with four division games remaining currently edges Indiana (6-7) with three.
With the Washington Wizards: The Pacers hold the head-to-head win-loss percentage tiebreak having beaten the Wizards 2-1 this season.
Some odds and ends...
As of Thursday, ESPN's BPI Playoff Index gives the Pacers a solid 94.6 percent chance of making the playoffs. The Blue & Gold's home-heavy schedule against teams mostly below .500 certainly bodes strongly in their favor. Only scheduled to face three more teams currently slated for the postseason, the Pacers need to avoid being lulled into a false sense of complacency as they look to build momentum over the final twelve games of the season. Tonight's game against the New Orleans Pelicans (sans Anthony Davis) provides an excellent opportunity to do so.