Currently riding the wave of having won of five of their last six games, there’s no greater time than the present for the Pacers to climb the standings. Indiana will enter tonight’s game against the Spurs just a half-game back of the Sixers, who yesterday lost Josh Richardson (concussion) to injury in the second quarter of a 136-130 loss to the Clippers while moving to 1-1 in games without Ben Simmons (back) and Joel Embiid (shoulder sprain).
Meanwhile, word out of San Antonio is that LaMarcus Aldridge is now doubtful with his sore shoulder after indicating on Saturday he was aiming to play against the Pacers, which means Domantas Sabonis could see a steady diet of double-teams. Jakob Poertl is already out with a sprained MCL, so the Spurs could very well be starting Indiana’s own Trey Lyles at center, pending Aldridge’s final status.
San Antonio’s depleted frontcourt notched a 114-113 win over Orlando on Saturday and held the combination of Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic to 23 points on 21 shots. As a a result, it looks as though knocking down open shots out of inside-out passes on one end of the floor while containing super-small lineups with Rudy Gay at nominal five at the other could prove key to earning a fourth-consecutive win over a bottom-10 defense.
The Pacers have a 2-1 regular season-series lead over the Sixers, so if they leave San Antonio with a win, they’ll move into fifth-place in the Eastern Conference with the Bucks waiting for them in Milwaukee on Wednesday.
How things currently stand...
If the season ended today...
(1) Milwaukee Bucks (52-8) vs. (8) Brooklyn Nets (26-33)
(3) Boston Celtics (41-18) vs. (6) Indiana Pacers (36-24)
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 but projects them to go 11-11 over their final 22 games, a record which would see them stay put in sixth and likely reflects their prickly road ahead.
According to Tankathon, whereas the Sixers and Heat each have at least 13 games left against teams with losing records, Indiana owns the sixth-toughest remaining schedule in the NBA and will be playing more games on the road (12) than at home (10). Even so, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher that the model expects both Miami and Philadelphia to finish the season at or above their current win-paces.
The Heat, who have both defense and shooting but oftentimes have to choose between the two, have accumulated a 3-3 record post All-Star break while surrendering 115.6 points per 100 possessions, a mark which is good for 22nd in the league over that span. Philadelphia, meanwhile, has been outscored by 4.7 points per 100 possession in the 499 minutes that they’ve played without Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid on the floor, the former of whom is expected to miss an extended period of time with a nerve impingement.
Still, while there’s whispers that sharpshooter Tyler Herro could be out for “multiple more weeks,” the Pacers aren’t going to be able to climb ahead of the Heat in the standings without actually climbing over the Heat in the standings. Granted, they can shave two full-games off Miami’s current two-game cushion with head-to-head wins on March 20 and April 7, but they won’t be able to win the season-series already trailing 0-2 and the fact that they play in the Central Division with the East-leading Milwaukee Bucks will work against them in the event of a tie. Should that happen, the Heat will own the tiebreaker by virtue of being a division winner, seeing as how they’re currently in cruise control to clinch the Southeast Division with a sizable lead over the Magic.
As such, games like tonight, when the Pacers play a potentially depleted Spurs team while Miami is at home against the Bucks, could end up having a significant impact on Indiana’s chances to make a run at the No. 4 seed and play host to either the Road Sixers (9-22) or Road Heat (13-8), albeit on Milwaukee’s side of the bracket.
So, seize the day, because starting Wednesday the Pacers will begin a much hairier stretch of four of five games against playoffs contenders, including the final match-up of the year against the Home Sixers (28-2).
In the event of a tie...
With Philadelphia 76ers: The Pacers currently have a 2-1 series lead, with one game remaining on March 14. Being in different divisions, and neither currently in position as a division winner, the next tiebreaker would be in-conference record. Philly currently holds a slight edge there with two more wins against the East.
With the Miami Heat: Miami can’t lose out on the head-to-head tiebreaker with a 2-0 series lead and would own the second tiebreaker as the probable Southeast Division winner.
With the Toronto Raptors: Toronto can’t lose out on the head-to-head tiebreaker with a 2-1 series lead and is currently in position to win the Atlantic Division by razor-thin margins.
With the Boston Celtics: Indiana leads the season-series 1-0, with two games left to play on March 10 and April 8.
Between the Heat and Sixers (who the Pacers might face in the 4-5 match-up): Miami owns the tiebreakers, having won the season series 3-1.
Between the Celtics and Raptors (who the Pacers could face in the 3-6 match-up): The Celtics currently have a 2-1 series lead with one game remaining on March 20. If Toronto evens the series, the tiebreaker would come down to which team has a better record within the Atlantic Division, which would currently go to the Raptors at 8-4.