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Eastern Conference playoff contenders put pressure on Pacers

While the Pacers strength of schedule levels out, the importance of the matchups ramps ups.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Indiana Pacers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Pacers face the Pistons at home on Wednesday night with the end of the NBA regular season exactly five weeks from tonight.

After surviving a rough segment of the schedule, the Pacers head down the home stretch remaining in playoff positions, currently sixth in the East, but with plenty of work left to be done to secure a post-season spot.

The Pistons are playing better of late and the Heat and Bucks have been surging for weeks now, poised to swipe a spot in the top eight in the East. Plus, as the Pacers found out on Monday, the Hornets have key players healthy and can't be counted out yet.

Oh, and those teams just happen to play the Pacers in four of their next five games. While the Pacers, Bulls and Hawks have been treading water of late, there are suddenly seven teams vying for the final four spots in the East.

So it is put up or shut up time for the Pacers and their post-season plans. Here's a quick capsule of the competition:

Pistons: 10-5 in their last 15 games, currently one game behind Pacers in standings. Pacers lead season series, 3-0 with final game tonight at BLF.

Bulls: 10-10 in their last 20, currently one game behind Pacers in standings. Pacers are done playing Bulls, season series tied 2-2 and the Pacers currently own the tie breaker with a better Division winning percentage, but it remains tight.

Heat: 11-4 in their last 15 games, currently 2.5 games behind Pacers in standings. Heat lead season series 2-0 with both wins at Miami. Pacers host the Heat on Sunday to wrap up the season series.

Bucks: 7-3 in their last 10 games, currently 2.5 games behind Pacers in standings. Bucks lead season series 2-0 with a win at home and at BLF, two games remaining with the Pacers.

Hornets: 3-1 since Cody Zeller returned to lineup, currently four games behind Pacers in standings. Hornets lead the season series 2-1. Pacers host the final matchup next Wednesday.

Hawks: 3-7 in their last 10 games, currently two games ahead of Pacers in the standings. Season series tied 1-1 with final game at BLF on the last day of the season.

While the Pacers play four of their next five against their playoff competition, only six of their 19 remaining games are key head-to-head matchups against the contenders. The critical five-games-in-eight-days stretch which tips off tonight could have the Pacers sliding up or down the standings in a hurry.

This was the key topic of the latest Locked on Pacers episode, so check it out.

Listen: Locked on Pacers - 3/8/17 - Pacers hit home stretch in tight playoff race