At the beginning of the season, the Pacers entertained hopes of making the playoffs. I, personally, didn’t think they would, but I thought they’d be in the hunt. I was figuring another season with wins in the mid-30s.
Ahhh…the heady days of wild-eyed optimism.
After being battered from pillar to post on their own floor twice by the NBA elite, your Indiana Pacers fell 15 games below .500 with 35 games to go. They now stand 8 full games behind Chicago and Charlotte, who are tied for the 7th/8th spot in the playoffs.
But, despite a recent bout of wishful thinking by the Pacers themselves, most observers had written off any faint playoff hopes sometime during their eight-game losing streak to end December. Now the question becomes something of a perversion. How bad will they be?
How Low Can You Go?
Right now, the Pacers are on a pace to win only 28 games. For some perspective, they haven’t had this low of a winning percentage this late in the season since 1989. That team won — wait for it — 28 games.
At this point, they have the seventh worst record in the league and only 11 teams in the league have losing records.
Since I think we can all agree that the Pacers won’t be finishing at or above (or anywhere near) .500, I think the graph above pretty much captures the range in which they’ll finish. Further, I think it’s safe to assume that neither New Jersey nor Minnesota will be able to catch up to the Pacers. Therefore, we’re looking at the team finishing with somewhere between the 3rd & the 11th worst record.
And, after you see my analysis below, I think you’ll agree that they’re unlikely to finish above the bottom eight.
Red Skies in Morning
Pacers take warning.
The Pacers have been in this position before under Jim O’Brien. Last year, the Pacers stood 11 games below .500 on January 1, but played the last 49 games at 25-24 to finish at 36-46. In 2008, the Pacers fell 16 games under .500 before finishing 11-5.
The 2009 performance was the result of a relatively competitive team figuring out how to win some games and play to its “.500 or slightly better” potential. In 2008, it was simply a favorable schedule. All 11 wins during that final stretch came against losing teams, and only two of them were against teams that were fighting for a playoff spot.
So, is it possible that either one of these scenarios to occur this year?
First, this isn’t a competitive team. Last year’s Pacers lost by 10 points or more 15 times. Twenty of the this year’s 36 losses have been by double digits, including six by 20 or more. There are a lot of adjectives that can be used to describe this team, but competitive isn’t one of them.
Second, there’s no help coming from Mr. Schedule-Maker Guy.
Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter
I broke down the remaining 35 games along two, pretty basic lines. First is “home vs. road” and second is “quality of opponent.” The former is self-explanatory. The Pacers have 18 home games left, and 17 on the road. To this point, they’ve been only 10-13 at home, and a gawdawful 6-18 on the road. Five of the six road wins have come against teams with worse records (including two against New Jersey), and the sixth win came against the Knicks, who were something like 1-9 at the time.
The latter I put into 4 categories: Elite, Winning, Losing, and Worse.
“Elite” are any teams with a winning percentage of .650 or better. “Worse” are any teams with records currently worse than the Pacers. “Winning” and “Losing” would be teams between .500 and either Elite or Worse, respectively. (All based on current record.)
- Elite (8 games remaining) – To date, the Pacers have played 12 games against “Elite” competition, losing 10 of them. Their only wins came at home over Boston in November and Orlando in January. They’ve lost all four road games against these teams, and six of the eight home games. The 10 losses have come by an average of 13 points, and the closest final margin was an 8-point loss at Orlando. The Pacers have managed only 102 points per 100 possessions, while allowing almost 112. Of the eight games left against these teams, seven are on the road. Had the home/road schedule been more balanced, I might have been more likely to believe the Pacers could steal one of these games, but honestly, there’s no reason to believe they’ll win any. Projection: 0-8.
- Winning (15 games remaining ) – Nine of these 15 games will be at home, which would normally be hopeful. However, Indy is only 3-4 against these teams at Conseco, and the wins are not confidence inspiring. Two of these wins were back-to-back comeback wins against Toronto and Phoenix, featuring 20+ point first-half deficits. The third was against Charlotte, who was 1-10 on the road at the time. Even at home, the offense can only generate 101 points per 100 possessions, while the defense allows almost 107. This was still better than their 0-9 performance on the road, where the offense was apparently lost with the luggage. The Pacers scored 96 per 100 while allowing almost 112. Only the game in San Antonio was close enough to believe they actually had a shot at winning. I don’t think they can take any of the games on the road, and winning a third of the home games is probably optimistic. Projection: 2-13
- Losing (5 games remaining) – The Pacers have played some of their worst basketball against the teams between .340 and .500, winning only 2 of 7 tries. The low point of the season was probably the 43-point loss to the Knicks. They’ve posted an offensive efficiency of less than 93, which ruined an overall good defensive efficiency of less than 100. Still, I think they’ll win two of their three remaining home games, and split their visits to Milwaukee. Projection: 3-2
- Worse (7 games remaining) – Nine of the Pacers’ 16 wins this season have come against these teams. They’ve lost on the road to Golden State and Minny, and at home to Philly. As noted above, five of the six road wins came against these teams. The Pacers have been able to score well (109 per 100 possessions) and shut down these guys (103.6). Five of these seven games are at home. At this point, I’m only going to project a loss at Detroit. Winning six of these games is probably optimistic, but I’m probably a little on the pessimistic side in some of the earlier categories. Detroit and Philly could either be better or worse than the Pacers, depending on wind direction, while New Jersey is clearly worse. Washington has some talent, but also problems, so it’s a shot in the dark (see what I did there?) as to whether they’ll be able to pull anything together. I’ll spread a little sunshine in this category. Projection: 6-1.
So, in 35 games, I’m only comfortable projecting 11 more wins, leaving your Blue and Gold with a final record of 27-55. If I were to guess, I’d say that would leave them with either the 4th or 5th worst record in the league. The tankers will be happy, but it’s going to be a long year for the rest of us.
The rest of the year could be even more brutal than the first 47 games. Close your eyes, and think of England. (nod to @missbumptious for the assist)