Ankles are obviously cursed. Al Jefferson filled in more than admirably against Toronto’s league-best bench when pressed into service by the sprain Domantas Sabonis sustained to his left ankle in Philly, but the anachronistic center has yet to log 20-plus minutes in consecutive contests this season. Crossing that benchmark seems unavoidable, even if Myles Turner is hopeful that he won’t need to follow in the gingerly footsteps of his understudy after spraining his own left ankle three separate times on Friday. Especially since Trevor Booker also has the potential to be somewhat limited, given that he was listed as questionable with a sprained right ankle prior to facing the Raptors.
Adding insult to literal injuries, tonight’s game against the Washington Wizards is critical to playoff seeding. If the Pacers come up short, not only will they fall back to the fifth seed in the standings, they’ll lose the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Plus, there’s more salt to pour on the wound: The Wizards are tied for the league’s top offensive rebounding rate since the break, and Victor Oladipo and Bojan Bogdanovic have shot a combined 14.8 percent outside the restricted area over the last two games.
If they can’t answer second chance scoring opportunities with threes, there will be even more pressure on Indiana’s first-time All-Star to get his team to the line while transforming point-saving deflections and steals into easy transition opportunities.
Washington takes better care of the ball than the Sixers, so Oladipo’s ability to make his presence felt in the gaps on defense will have a lot to do with Cory Joseph.
Consider the defensive match-ups from the last time these two teams met, for instance.
Whereas Victor Oladipo defended more possessions against Tomas Satoransky (26) than Bradley Beal (22), Washington’s first-time All-Star spent the majority of the game guarding Oladipo (53) and ended up logging 43 minutes of action.
On the other end of the floor, Beal only produced 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting when Cory Joseph was harassing him, and he missed his final five shots.
Given that their frontcourt depth is already paper thin, the Pacers can’t afford for this sort of fatigue factor to be equally pronounced in the reverse.
There won’t be any rest for the weary, either. After tonight, they’ll continue to be in action every other day until they face the Kings on March 29 and eight of their final 12 games are against teams with winning records.
At least in the immediate, twisted ankles have the potential to become this team’s Achilles heel.
How things currently stand...
If the season ended today...
Last Tuesday’s regular season series finale against the Sixers would be a playoff preview. To a certain extent, these teams bring out the best and worst aspects of each other. The Pacers are 19-22 when they get outrebounded, and the Sixers have the league’s top rebounding rate. On the flip side, Philly also has the league’s highest turnover rate, and Indiana leads the Eastern Conference in points scored off turnovers per 100 possessions as well as fast break points per 100 possessions.
According to basketball reference, the Pacers are 21-12 when their opponent commits at least 15 turnovers and 19-17 when they don’t.
Back in February, Indiana caused 18 turnovers and won by eight points in Embiid’s first back-to-back despite getting crushed in second chance points, 16-2.
And that was with Philly’s unicorn center basically rendering Myles Turner nonexistent, as Indiana’s 21-year-old shot-blocker with the feathery mid-range jump shot picked up two fouls in the first three minutes and 10 seconds of the game and finished with zero points in 15 minutes of action.
On Tuesday, the Pacers scored 29 points off 21 turnovers and won by three despite shooting 5-of-24 from three, losing Domantas Sabonis to a sprained left ankle in the third quarter, enduring Victor Oladipo and Bojan Bogdanovic going a combined 5-of-32 from the field, and needing to play Al Jefferson some minutes during crunch time when Myles Turner picked up his fifth foul with over five minutes remaining.
Assuming their frontcourt depth is fully restocked before the playoffs, Indiana can win getting out-muscled on the glass as long as they can create easy transition opportunities and get away with Bogdanovic checking the length and playmaking of Ben Simmons in order to conserve the energy of Oladipo.
(3) Indiana Pacers (40-29) vs. (6) Philadelphia 76ers (38-30)
Some odds and ends...
As of the latest simulation, ESPN’s BPI playoff odds are giving the Pacers a near to certain 99.9 percent chance of making the playoffs but project them to go 6-7 over their final 13 games, a win-loss percentage which would drop them to the sixth seed.
In that scenario, Indiana would open the postseason on the road while swapping places in the standings with the Sixers.
By comparison, the Sixers have six more games against team’s with losing records remaining than the Pacers. They also have nearly twice as many games left at home, where they are 13-1 since the start of the calendar year.
On the other hand, the Pacers only have one game left to play with 0 days rest (a doozy in Toronto the night after facing off against the Warriors at Bankers Life Fieldhouse), whereas the Sixers have three, including their final game of the season against the Milwaukee Bucks which has the potential to impact seeding.
Thus far, Embiid has logged 30-plus minutes in each of his team’s last five games played on the second night of a back-to-back. Not to mention he’s currently healthier than Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, despite playing more minutes than ever before in his career. Even so, the decision of whether to push for home court advantage or prioritize rest seems like a delicate balance worth monitoring.
Outside of LeBron’s agelessness, Cleveland continues to underwhelm without Kevin Love. Their refreshed roster has gone an uninspiring 5-7 since the All-Star, and they’ve surrendered 108 points per 100 possessions over their last 12 games, a mark which is mediocre when compared to the rest of the league during that span.
As for the Wizards, their double-overtime game against the undermanned Celtics had the potential to be as demoralizing as it was exhausting had it gone the other way. They had dropped five of seven games against teams with winning records after jumping out to an impressive 10-4 record without John Wall, and they have games every other day until they face the Cavs on April 5 after getting three days off following tonight’s game with the Pacers.
Instead, by rallying from a 20-point deficit, Washington has the potential to grab the tiebreaker over Indiana while stringing together consecutive wins over teams currently ahead of them in the standings.
In addition to this evening’s final head-to-head meeting with the Wizards, the Pacers will also be searching for the tiebreaker against the Miami Heat before the end of the month.
Detroit still hasn’t been mathematically eliminated, but it would take an epic meltdown for the Pacers to miss the playoffs. If Indiana goes 6-7 as projected, the Pistons wouldn’t be able to tie them even if they swept the rest of their games.
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.
With the Milwaukee Bucks: The Pacers (3-1) hold the head-to-head win-loss percentage tiebreaker.
With the Philadelphia 76ers: The Pacers (2-1) hold the head-to-head win-loss percentage tiebreaker.
With the Washington Wizards: The regular season series is currently tied (1-1) with the final meeting between the two teams slated for tonight.
With the Miami Heat: The Heat lead the season series (2-1) with the final meeting between the two teams slated for March 25.