The Pacers sit in fifth place with 24 games remaining after the All-Star break, just a half game back of home court advantage and 4.5 games out of missing the playoffs. As it stands, only five games separate the third-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers and eighth-seeded Miami Heat.
Among those teams, Indiana has the second-best win percentage since the start of the calendar year, but things are about to get real.
They’ll need to take care of business when they return to action on Friday against the Hawks because after traveling to Dallas on Monday and heading to Atlanta on Wednesday, they’re only scheduled to play five more opponents with losing records.
Then, beginning on March 5 against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Pacers will play games every other day until the end of the month when they travel to Sacramento.
Meanwhile, nine of their last 15 games will be on the road, a stretch which includes a home-and-home against the Golden State Warriors, who are less likely to be in rest mode considering that they are currently tied in the win column for the West’s top spot with the Houston Rockets.
Put simply, climbing the standings won’t come easy.
How things currently stand...
If the season ended today...
(3) Cleveland Cavaliers (34-22) vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks (32-25)
(4) Washington Wizards (33-24) vs. (5) Indiana Pacers (33-25)
Some odds and ends...
As of yesterday morning, ESPN’s BPI Playoff Index gives the Pacers an 89 percent chance of making the playoffs but projects them to go 11-13 over their final 24 games, a win-loss percentage (.458) which would drop them to the seventh seed.
In that scenario, Indiana (No. 5) would flip flop places in the standings with Philadelphia (No. 7). By comparison, the Sixers have three times as many back-to-backs remaining as the Pacers, but only nine of their final 27 games are against opponents that are above .500. Meanwhile, the Pacers have the second toughest remaining schedule among the teams that are currently seeded 3-9, and they’re tied for the fewest games left at home.
Still, it’s somewhat surprising that the Wizards and their suddenly improved ball movement weren’t given more consideration as a potential free-fall candidate. Not only do they have to play seven more games with 0 days rest, they’re only going to face seven teams with losing records to close the season. Plus, they’re expected to be without John Wall, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee at the end of January, for at least the next four to six weeks.
As such, Indiana’s final two meetings with Washington (Mar. 4, Mar. 17) could end up playing a crucial role in where both teams finish in the standings.
In addition to those contests, the Pacers have one head-to-head match-up left each against the Sixers (Mar. 13) and Heat (Mar. 25) and two against the Bucks (Mar. 2 and Mar. 5), the latter of which is a back-to-back at home.
In the event of a tie...
With the Cleveland Cavaliers: The Pacers (3-1) hold the head-to-head win-loss percentage tiebreaker
With the Detroit Pistons: The Pistons (3-1) hold the head-to-head win-loss percentage tiebreaker.