After failing to get over the hump last night against the Clippers despite big nights from Tyreke Evans (19 points) and Doug McDermott (17 points), the Pacers have lost three in a row and five of seven since the start of their gauntlet schedule on March 7, and their offense has shown signs of fatigue, be it recurrent scoring droughts or unforced turnovers. Going back to the game they dropped on the road against Milwaukee, they’ve ranked 29th in offensive efficiency (at 101.9 points per 100 possessions) with seven rotation players shooting below 45 percent from the floor.
Trending downward against stiffer competition, the focus for these Pacers needs to be on themselves and finding more consistent ways to get buckets no matter their first-round opponent, but don’t be mistaken...their first-round opponent matters.
The Sixers slayed the Pacers in all three games in which Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Jimmy Butler were available, and Indiana failed to crack the century mark in any of those contests while getting bogged down by Philly’s switches and confounding cross-matches.
Unless the Pacers can somehow find a yet-to-be-demonstrated solve for Myles Turner racking up fouls against Embiid on one end of the floor and being marginalized by the threat of Simmons switching onto the ball on the other, opening the playoffs on the road against the Sixers profiles as the most worrisome match-up among the realistic scenarios in play.
And it could still happen, which is why tonight’s marquee match-up between Boston and Philadelphia also carries major implications for Indiana.
If the Celtics sweep the Sixers, they’ll move into a tie for the 4-seed with the Pacers, just two games back of Philadelphia with control of the head-to-head tiebreaker.
In that event, Boston would also clinch the multi-team tiebreaker between the three teams with a 5-1 record compared to 3-5 for the Sixers and 2-4 for Indiana, even though they still have two games left to play to determine the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Pacers.
Philadelphia’s remaining strength of schedule is more favorable than Boston’s (28th-easiest, per Tankathon.com), but seven of their last 10 games are on the road after tonight.
Provided that Jayson Tatum breaks out of his 8-game slump with Al Horford continuing to be to the Sixers what Joel Embiid has been to the Pacers, the Celtics might just finally do the thing where they’re actually on the upswing and stay there.
They’ve already won 6 of 9, after losing four straight.
How things currently stand...
If the season ended today...
(4) Indiana Pacers (44-28) vs. (5) Boston Celtics (43-28)
Some odds and ends...
As of this morning, ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives the Pacers a better than 99.9 percent chance of making the playoffs and projects them to go 6-4 over their final 10 games, an outcome which would result in them securing a 50-win season by razor-thin margins.
In that scenario, the Pacers would avoid facing the Sixers in the first-round, but they would open the playoffs on the road, where they are a combined 1-6 against the Bucks, Raptors, Sixers, and Celtics, compared to 3-3 at home.
As such, a lot is riding on the two head-to-heads with Boston. If the Celtics come out ahead in both of those, and even if the only other wins they find on their schedule are against Charlotte, Cleveland, Washington, and Orlando (all of whom are currently outside of playoff position), the Pacers would have to go 6-2 against their other eight remaining opponents to clinch homecourt advantage.
With every game left set to matter, rust isn’t likely to be an issue come playoff time but lack of rest might prove to be. Cory Joseph, Thaddeus Young, and Bojan Bogdanovic have yet to miss a game this season, and each has struggled at various points during the team’s current west coast road trip. Bogdanovic is shooting 18 percent from three, Young went 1-for-8 from the floor against the Trail Blazers, and Joseph finally made two shots in LA after missing 15 of his previous 16 attempts (shouts to his half-court, buzzer-beating heave).
Meanwhile, the team as a whole committed 23 turnovers against the Clippers (several of which were of the extremely unforced variety), while also struggling to finish stops with rebounds.
Outside of McDermott’s blistering shooting and the noticeable spring Tyreke had in his step with the ball in his hands, they looked tired. But without the luxury to take DNP breaks from the schedule, they’ll have to make due with taking advantage of breaks in the schedule. Such is the case this weekend, when the Pacers return home to play their only game game in a five-day span against a Nuggets team playing their third game in four days and their fourth game of a four-game east coast road trip.
In the event of a tie...
With the Philadelphia 76ers: The Sixers own the head-to-head win-loss percentage tiebreaker, 3-1.
With the Toronto Raptors: The Raptors own the head-to-head win-loss percentage tiebreaker, 2-1.
With the Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks own the head-to-head win-loss percentage tiebreaker, 3-1.
With the Boston Celtics: The regular season series is currently tied 1-1 with the final two meetings slated for March 29 (at TD Garden) and April 5 (at Bankers Life Fieldhouse). In the event that the series ends up being split, mere percentage points separate the Celtics (29-13) from the Pacers (30-15) in terms of conference record.
With the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics: Since none of the teams involved are leading their respective divisions, Boston (4-1) would have the edge based off winning percentage against Indiana (2-4) and Philadelphia (3-4) with three additional head-to-head meetings slated for March 20 (Celtics vs. Sixers), March 29 (Pacers vs. Celtics), and April 3 (Celtics vs. Pacers).
With the Detroit Pistons: The regular season series is currently tied 1-1 with the final two meeting slated for April 1 (at Bankers Life Fieldhouse) and 3 (Little Caesar’s Arena). Within the Central Division, the Pacers currently have a better record (9-5) than the Pistons (8-6).
With the Brooklyn Nets: The Pacers lead the regular season series 2-1 with the final meeting scheduled for April 7 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. If Brooklyn manages to tie the series at 2-2, the Pacers (30-15) currently have a comfortable lead over the Nets in terms of conference winning-percentage (25-20).
With the Miami Heat: The Pacers own the head-to-head win-loss percentage tiebreaker, 3-0.