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Pacers Playoff Picture: Detroit Pistons reopen door to No. 7 seed

Standings, postseason odds, tiebreakers, and notes on potential match-ups all in one place

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Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

he Detroit Pistons (40-36) and Indiana Pacers (39-36) have matched each other loss for loss. By falling to the Dallas Mavericks on Friday, the Pistons returned the half-game the Pacers gifted them on Thursday when they lost to the Orlando Magic. As it stands now, Indiana trails the Pistons by a 0.5 game for the No. 7 seed ahead of tonight's match-up with the Philadelphia 76ers, in which they are expected to make some tweaks to the playing rotation.

"We'll make some subtle changes, some bigger changes, the main thing is we have to remain together," head coach Frank Vogel told Pacers.com's Mark Montieth following Friday's practice. "There's not a whole lot of wholesale changes you can make, but we'll make some subtle changes."

Meanwhile, the Pistons and Bulls will be playing each other in Chicago. Should the Bulls and Pacers both come up with wins tonight, Indiana will regain control of the No. 7 seed. However, Chicago (5-3) would then have the best cumulative season series record against the the other two aforementioned teams vying for a playoff spot, meaning they would win a potential multi-team tie for seventh.

Standings should have Pacers checking their six...

Since the Pacers can't erase past losses as they make a go of swapping places with Detroit, adding wins is imperative to avoid being leapfrogged by Chicago.

"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."

If the Pacers go 5-2 the rest of the way, only dropping games against opponents above .500, they would finish the season 44-38. In that scenario, the Pistons would need to win five of their remaining six games to secure the seventh seed, since the Blue & Gold hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. This, of course, is dependent upon Indiana actually taking care of business against, supposedly, inferior opponents. In other words, the only team standing in the way of the Pacers continues to be the Pacers.

Take a look at the race for the No. 7 and 8 spots.

If the Pacers finish 44-38, the Boston Celtics would have to finish 0-6 to slip below Indiana in the standings.

If the season ended today...

The Indiana Pacers would face the Cleveland Cavaliers, otherwise known as the Eastern Conference's prohibitive favorite. An unfortunate turn of events, given a recent report from the Toronto Sun's Ryan Wolstot which indicates that All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry's elbow is a "major concern" and DeMarre Carroll's return this season is "very much in doubt." Facing a team with solid rim protection and an elite wing scorer would likely prove to be a tough test for a potentially shorthanded Toronto team with a history of first-round playoff exits.

Yet, entirely by their own doing, the Pacers are currently slated to face the East's top seed. The Cavaliers have swept Indiana three games to none this season with one final meeting scheduled for April 6. Still, with 60 lead changes across the three contests, the Pacers have played Cleveland close.

Beyond game planning for LeBron James, the biggest area of concern in a hypothetical match-up between the two teams is arguably Indiana's sputtering defense, which continues to be too indecisive when deciding whether to switch or hard show against pick-and-roll ball-handlers when the floor is spaced with capable shooters.

"We've got to get better with our defense," George pinpointed to NBA-TV's Arena Link as an area that still needs improvement following last Sunday's win over the Houston Rockets. "When it comes to the playoffs we're going to play a lot of spread teams. That's where we are really struggling at, guarding teams that spread us out. We've just got to get our rotations down. We have to learn how to play at that pace, how to play faster, and we'll be alright. But again, it's going to be these stretch-fours and stretch-five teams that we've really got to dial-in on."

Another concern is that the Pacers have been struggling to keep opponents off the glass, ranking 19th in the league in rebounding percentage during the month of March. The Cavaliers are averaging 15.7 second chance points per game over that same span of time, second only to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Be all of this as it may, if the Pacers continue to be their own worst enemy, any further discussion of match-ups will be needless. Especially if Paul George continues to be hampered by injury, grimacing nearly every time he drives to basket or tries to fight over the top of a screen.

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers (54-22) vs. (8) Indiana Pacers (39-36)

(2) Toronto Raptors (51-24) vs. (7) Detroit Pistons (40-36)

(3) Miami Heat (44-31) vs. (6) Boston Celtics (44-32)

(4) Charlotte Hornets (44-31) vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks (45-32)

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 (9-5) with two Southeast Division games remaining has the advantage over Indiana (6-8) with two 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 Bulls hold the head-to-head tiebreakers, having won the season series, 3-1.

With the Washington Wizards: The Pacers hold the head-to-head win-loss percentage tiebreak having beaten the Wizards 2-1 this season.

With the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls: Since Chicago (4-3) and Indiana (4-4) currently boast the top two head-to-head win-loss percentages among the three teams, Detroit (3-4) would be the odd team out. One season series match-up remains between the Pistons and Bulls on Saturday, April 2. If the Pistons win tonight, all three teams would be 4-4 against each other. The three-way tiebreaker would then be decided by division record. In this scenario, Indiana (6-8) would currently be outside playoff contention, behind Chicago (8-5) and Detroit (8-6).

Some odds and ends...

Following the Pistons' loss to Dallas, ESPN's BPI Playoff Index decreased Detroit's playoff odds by 13.3 percentage points. But the Pacers shouldn't be satisfied with a productive night off, when their productivity (or lack thereof) on the court has led to three losses in four games. Allowing 107.3 points per 100 possessions over the last four games is not indicative of team in the playoff hunt.

"We gave up too many points in the paint," Paul George said following Friday's defensive-minded practice. "It was very easy for them to score on us. We take pride (in) our defense, and to give up 50, 60 points in the paint is unacceptable."

So what's the key to regaining the No. 7 seed from Detroit and holding off Chicago?

Togetherness?

Adjustments?

Self-reflection?

Defensive intensity?

All of the above.

"Nobody in the locker room liked the way we played (Thursday) night," Paul George told the Indy Star's Nate Taylor. "We came in, watched film about last night and it kind of rubbed us the wrong way, too. It just made (Friday's) practice that much (more) intense. I think it's kind of when you look at yourself in the mirror and you're like, ‘(Expletive), I could be better than that. Let me show you today.' It was that type of practice."