The Indiana Pacers looked great in handling the Pistons 111-101 on Wednesday night. Darren Collison led the attack with 20 points, Danny Granger added 17 and Josh McRoberts had a career-best with 13 rebounds to add to an effective 15-point night. Mike Dunleavy inspired the troops by making a triumphant return from injury to score 9 points. It was truly a night when no one on the Pacers played poorly.
On nights like these it’s easy to envision the Pacers as a worthy playoff team, despite their 34-42 record. Play well and the Pacers should easily be able to steal a game in a likely first round match-up against Chicago. Pushing a Chicago series to five games would be a noteworthy accomplishment for this group and set the franchise on the right path for the future. With the impending cap room the Pacers are about to enjoy this would be the icing on the cake.
All seems right with the world. The Pacers just spanked the Pistons. They continue to have a one-game lead for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Keep playing like this and the regular season business will soon turn into the postseason bonus.
Which makes the cynic in me wonder — based on how things have gone this season — how far does the pendulum now swing in the other direction?
A quick glance at the Pacers closing schedule shows that there aren’t many teams like Detroit left on the slate. In fact, I count only one sure win, next Wednesday against Washington. It all starts with a game against Milwaukee, which will be looking at a last gasp effort on Friday to stay in the playoff race by beating the Pacers.
Here’s the Pacers remaining schedule:
Friday, April 1 – Milwaukee (30-44)
Sunday, April 3 – at New Orleans (42-32)
Wednesday, April 6 – Washington (18-56)
Friday, April 8 – Atlanta (42-32)
Sunday, April 10 – New York (36-38)
Wednesday, April 13 – at Orlando (47-28)
While things look a little daunting, it could be easier than anticipated if Atlanta, New York and Orlando all are locked into their playoff spots and decide that they have nothing to play for down the stretch.
On the surface, Charlotte has more games that they should win. Their closing schedule includes several bad teams in Washington, Cleveland, Detroit and New Jersey.
Here’s the Bobcats remaining schedule:
Friday, April 1 – at Orlando (47-28)
Sunday, April 3 – Washington (18-56)
Tuesday, April 5 – at Cleveland (15-59)
Wednesday, April 6 – Orlando (47-28)
Friday, April 8 – at Miami (52-23)
Sunday, April 10 – Detroit (26-48)
Monday, April 11 – at New Jersey (23-50)
Wednesday, April 13 – Atlanta (42-32)
Before their latest Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde routine, I really thought making the playoffs would be a relatively easy proposition for the Pacers. As Tim Donahue pointed out in recent article, the Pacers should have been home free after thoroughly dismantling the Bobcats last week.
Instead, they find themselves in a fight for their lives. Michael Jordan essentially made it public that Charlotte did not want to be the 7th or 8th seed in the East when he traded away his key pieces before the February deadline. Somehow, the Charlotte players ignored all that and have gone on to win four games in a row since the Pacers blew them out on their home court.
Meanwhile, the Pacers somehow managed to lose by double-digits to both Sacramento and Detroit before putting together a great effort to beat Boston.
The Pacers are a hard team to figure out. They have beaten teams they shouldn’t be able to beat, but they have lost in blowouts many more times to teams they should beat consistently.
If the Pacers recent trend of beating teams that are headed to the playoffs holds true, they should be in good shape. That would mean at least four wins down the stretch and the blue and gold would be playoff bound.
Given the wild swings of inconsistency this year, that is probably too much to ask …
But I’ll cross my fingers anyway.