At 6-3 since the All-Star break, the Indiana Pacers have continued to make strides on their Playoff march. Sunday was the start of an Eastern Conference blitz that they will have to claw through game-by-game, but they are off to a good start after coming out on top against Boston tied for third in the East and first in the Central Division.
The final score Sunday in Boston was 99-97 with some debatable drama that nearly handed another game to the Celtics as they did in mid-December. Victor Oladipo was called for an offensive foul with 1.5 seconds left on the clock giving the Celtics the ball directly underneath their own basket. Terry Rozier missed a fade-away jumper at the horn to seal a Pacers victory but it looked like the same nightmare all over again.
Following the Boston game on Sunday, the Pacers will play Philadelphia, Toronto, and Washington within the next five days. This stretch will be a real test to see just how good the Pacers are. All three are probable playoff teams with Toronto being the only one who has clinched a spot.
The final 16 games are littered with strong opponents in that twelve of them currently stand above sea-level. Two of those games be a home-and-home against the defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. If the Pacers are able to win eleven of those games it would be a huge accomplishment for them to get to the 50-win mark. That would mark only the tenth time Indiana has reached that mark amongst 51 seasons between both the NBA and ABA.
As it sits now, Indiana is sitting in third-place and it is imaginable that they will either play the Washington Wizards, Philadelphia 76’ers, or the Cleveland Cavaliers depending on how seeds three through six shakes out. Indiana will still play both Washington and Philadelphia on the road one more time this season after splitting the first two games against both teams. Cleveland, on the other hand, has only beaten Indiana in one of the four meetings this year.
Saying, Indiana does stick in the three spot, or four even, I think they can make a run and even win a series if they can clinch home-court for that first-round. The team is passionate and they are one of the closest units in the league partially explaining their success throughout the season. Each of them comes with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove every night. A second-round Playoff series would be huge for both the organization and the fans proving all the doubters.
During the final stretch, head coach Nate McMillan will have to tinker with his lineup combinations and especially the bench to solidify things before April rolls around. With the return of Darren Collison and Glenn Robinson III in addition to the signing of Trevor Booker, adds a few more weapons to the arsenal. DC has been a fixture all year in the starting unit and has really been one of the most efficient point guards in the NBA with a 4.2 assist to turnover ratio, good for second best in the league.
GRIII has been coming around as well, his three-point stroke has been a little off to the tune of 25% so far but that will come with rhythm. The biggest thing for him and Trevor Booker both is building chemistry with that second unit so they are at their best come to the Playoffs. Lance Stephenson and Cory Joseph have been exceptional at commanding that second unit while Domantas Sabonis has proven in value in just his second NBA season.
One of the key concerns for Indiana will be staying healthy over the remaining 16-games. Currently, they sit a full-strength and are really only looking for the new guys to get acclimated or re-acclimated in Darren’s case. The Pacers are deep although they don’t have many scorers coming off the bench, they spread to ball around and look for the open man which makes the successful.
Continuing to play team basketball and pass the ball around as the Pacers have all season should be how they finish out the regular season, and then proceed to the playoffs. A lot of weight will reside upon Victor Oladipo’s shoulders but he has carried the burden with outstanding pride all year long.
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