Even after following up a poor shooting outing against the Dallas Mavericks with a generally careless effort last night against the Atlanta Hawks (seriously, they failed to attempt a shot that made contact with the rim during the third quarter until more than two minutes had elapsed), the Pacers sit just a half a game back of home court advantage and five games out of missing the playoffs.
But, here’s the rub: It isn’t going to get any easier. Indiana only has five games remaining against teams with losing records, which is the fewest of any team currently seeded 3-9 in the Eastern Conference.
That’s concerning, given that Victor Oladipo shot a woeful 23.4 percent from three during the month of February, Cory Joseph is shooting 18.2 percent from three as a starter, Myles Turner has picked up a pair fouls during the first quarter of four of the team’s last eight games, and they committed a season-high 24 turnovers against the Hawks.
They’ll need to figure things out fast when they continue their four-game road trip in Milwaukee on Friday because that contest begins a stretch of three games in four nights in which Indiana will be jockeying for playoff position and searching for tiebreakers.
Among those games is Indiana’s only back-to-back during the month of March against the Wizards and Bucks on Sunday and Monday — the latter of whom will also be coming off 0 days rest. If they fail to right the ship, the Pacers will lose the regular season series with both teams.
Following those high stakes match-ups, Indiana will be in action every other day until March 29 when they face the Kings and nine of their last 15 games will be on the road.
All of which is to say that the last two games against Dallas and Atlanta should’ve eased the Pacers into this upcoming slate, instead inexcusable losses at the hands of two of the league’s worst teams just made the sledding that much tougher.
How things currently stand...
If the season ended today...
(2) Boston Celtics (44-19) vs. (7) Milwaukee Bucks (33-28)
(4) Washington Wizards (36-26) vs. (5) Indiana Pacers (34-27)
Some odds and ends....
As of this morning, ESPN’s BPI playoff index gives the Pacers an 84.9 percent chance of making the playoffs but projects them to go 9-12 over their final 21 games, a win-loss percentage which would drop them to the eighth seed and into a first round match-up with the Raptors.
In that scenario, Indiana would get bypassed in the standings by Philadelphia, Miami, and Milwaukee.
By comparison, the Sixers have eight fewer games remaining against teams with winning records than the Pacers, but they still have five games left to play on 0 days rest.
Joel Embiid has logged 30-plus minutes in each of his team’s last three games played on the second night of a back-to-back, but whether the Sixers prioritize rest or press for home court advantage is worth keeping an eye on, nonetheless.
It seems like the strength of Washington’s remaining schedule should catch up to them eventually, but they’re 10-4 and scoring 110.5 points per 100 possessions since John Wall went down, a mark which ranks sixth in the league. They’re also 19-10 against opponents that are below .500, which is the worst win-loss percentage among the teams that are currently in playoff position in the East. So, playing their best ball of the season against mostly tough opponents actually may somehow work in their favor.
As such, Indiana’s final two meetings with the Wizards 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 against the Bucks (Mar. 2 and Mar. 5) that were previously mentioned.
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.