There’s that word again. The last time I used that word, I said the Pacers should win 42 games and have a special end of the year. Oh, well. Not the first time I’ve been wrong, and it certainly won’t be the last.
However, if this time is one of them, then the problems will run far, far deeper than my apparent cluelessness.
It’s been almost five years since the Indiana Pacers have played a playoff game. In fact, it’s been almost five years since the Pacers sat 8th or higher in the East this late in the season. As of this morning, the Pacers are 3 full games ahead of Charlotte and Milwaukee for the final playoff spot. The Blue and Yellow Menace (as @Mark_J_Boyle calls them) took care of their end of things by fairly crushing the Bobkitties. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Bucks show just how big of a threat they were by losing – at home – to the Sacramento Kings.
Looking at the remaining schedules for the three teams shows the Pacers have a huge – and likely insurmountable – advantage over their Eastern Conference brethren who are chasing them.
As you can see, the Pacers have the easiest schedule by virtually every metric. They have the fewest remaining games (10 vs. 12 each). They have the fewest road games (3) and the most home games (7, along with Charlotte). Charlotte plays one more “cupcake” (teams with SoSHR under .300) game, but the Pacers still have four, the .428 is more favorable then either of the other two.
In fact, the schedule maker has been unbelievably kind to Indiana. The above chart is a Rolling 10-game SoSHR for the season, and the Pacers are currently going through just about the easiest portion of the year to finish. And, in my opinion, the schedule is actually easier than it looks.
Of the last 10 games, there will probably only be five of them where the opponent will be playing for anything meaningful. One of them is the Bucks, who will bring a .273 road winning percentage on April Fool’s day. The Celtics and their pursuit of the #1 seed visit Conseco next Monday, and the Pacers will visit a New Orleans team currently positioned to finish anywhere from 5th to out of the playoffs in the West on April 3rd. Atlanta is currently suffering through a 4-8 March, and may be feeling heat for that 5th seed when they visit on 4/8 from Philly. But, really, the Boston visit and the trip to NOLA are the only two “expected” losses of the last 10.
Which brings us to the fifth team that will be playing for something – the Knicks.
Can the Knicks Be Caught?
The Pacers home finale is against the Knicks on April 10th, and it could be chock full o’ nuts. Less than two weeks ago, Indiana ventured into MSG for a Sunday evening tilt between two teams apparently headed in opposite directions. New York had won three of their previous four games, including road wins at Atlanta and Memphis. The Blue-and-Gold were on a 6-game losing streak as embarrassing and deflating as any stretch I can ever recall.
Then the scripts were flipped. The Pacers won two straight against New York and five of the next seven overall. The Knicks have now lost six of their last seven, and what was a seven-game lead on March 13th has dwindled to 3-1/2 games.
Looking at the Pacers schedule above, I think you can for sure pencil in five wins: the four “cupcakes” in green and the Knicks game. As noted earlier, I see two clear losses – Boston & New Orleans. The other three games – @ Detroit, vs. Atlanta, @ Orlando – are questionable. I don’t see the Pacers either winning all three or losing all three, so that means one or two wins to finish the final 10 games either 38-44 or 39-43.
The Knicks currently have 35 wins. They’ve played the Pacers three times – losing twice – and my projection of a Pacer win on April 10th would clinch the tie-breaker for Indiana. In the current scenarios, the Knicks will have to finish with 39 or 40 wins – or get at least 4 or 5 of their last 11. Unfortunately for the Pacers, that looks pretty doable, but only if they take advantage of the next two weeks.
There are four “cupcakes” on their schedule, and they happen in the next six games. New York is reeling, but Milwaukee, New Jersey, Cleveland, and Toronto are – for all appearances – complete train wrecks. It’s not hard to see the ‘Bockers winning all four of those, and notching Saturday’s game at Charlotte to make this discussion moot.
However, if the Knicks do not take advantage of the next six games, then the 7th seed is in play. They finish with four of five on the road – against Philly, New Jersey, Indy, and Boston. Worse, their final two games will be a back-to-back hosting Chicago, then traveling to Boston – while both teams will likely be fighting for homecourt advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.
If I were to make a prediction now, I would say that the Knicks will hold onto the 7th seed. It’s just too big of a hole to fill in too little time. I will say this, though. If – if – the Knicks haven’t wrapped it up by the April 10th showdown, then the Pacers will catch them.
But even if they don’t, the skein of non-playoff seasons is coming to an end.
Well, at least it should be.
Easy win for the Pacers last night. Indiana basically controlled the game from the middle of the third quarter on, and the only real excitement after that came when Tyrus Thomas threatened self-immolation during a brief stretch late in the third.
Danny Granger was dominant with 33 points on only 19 shots. He’s had a few really strong performances over the last couple of months, but this was as close to the vintage 2009 All Star as I’ve seen since, well, 2009. Roy Hibbert was solid with 13 points and 14 rebounds, and Tyler Hansbrough dropped a half dozen more mid-range jumpers on his way to 24 points.
The win drops the magic number over Charlotte to 8, but really, it ended Charlotte. @StacyPaetz reported last night that Stephen Jackson would likely “shut it down” if the Bobcats lost last night. Jackson was clearly hobbled by the hamstring, and a team whose second best player is probably D.J. Augustin just isn’t going to be competitive enough to put together the 9-3 or 10-2 finish needed to make them a realistic threat.