Game #78 Recap: Despite Blowout Loss, Pacers Inch Closer to Playoff Spot

(Footage of the Pacers valiant, fourth quarter “comeback.” via Graydon Gordian)

The Pacers lost in New Orleans badly (108-96) in a contest where the final score was not very indicative of the whole game. The end result was pretty apparent toward the beginning of the third quarter as the Hornets padded a lead north of 20 points. Both teams had their starters out by the start of the fourth, and there was even an alleged James Posey sighting. A flurry of outside shots got the Pacers much closer in the waning minutes, but the game was never in doubt.

We could go over the stats, but it’s not really necessary. Chris Paul was excellent and New Orleans’ starters shot 32-for-55 (58.2%) while nothing really stood out for Indy aside from decent play by AJ Price and Paul George’s 1-for-5 shooting, 3-point performance. This was his the 12th time in his 15 starts that he failed to score in double-digits and the 9th time in this stretch he has failed to even put up 7 points. Meanwhile, Mike Dunleavy dropped 15 points on 7 shots, in fewer minutes than George played, largely because he got to the line 6 times in just his 3rd game back from sitting out for five weeks with a busted thumb. Paul George has only attempted 6 free throws once in a game since February 12.

Pointless numbers aside, the outcome should not have been too surprising.

The Hornets, with a current record of 44-33, will ultimately wind up as either the 6th, 7th or 8th playoff seed in the vastly superior Western Conference; the Pacers, with a 35-43 record, are destined for the 8th seed in the East (which comes with a I-65 playoff date and a two games in a half-red Conseco Fieldhouse in a series against the Bulls).

Yes, I wrote it.

The Pacers are headed to the playoffs. Tim Donahue may not have been ready to call it after the team’s nail-biter against Milwaukee last Friday, but I’m ready to dive across Charlotte’s limp carcass like a UFC referee just 48 hours later.

Perhaps the assertion that Charlotte has no interest in making the playoffs and receiving a first-round smackdown is true. The Bobcats, just two games back in the standings, lost 97-91 at home to lowly Washington in what was just the Wizards’ third road win in 38 tries. Charlotte’s leading scorer, the infamous Stephen Jackson, did not play due to a sore hamstring, and the team seems to be in no hurry to bring him back. This does not seem like a club very intent on winning.

It may seem out of place to be so upbeat about the season after the Pacers were on the receiving end of such a solid beating. Sure, there were some really disconcerting things to see, especially confirmation of an earlier assertion that the starting line-up just doesn’t play very well together.

But if the team’s preseason goal was to make the playoffs, it looks good now.

Milwaukee is too far back, and Charlotte is seemingly holding up its white flag. Before play started Sunday, Hollinger listed Indiana’s chances at appearing in the playoffs as 94.2% (with Charlotte at 5.7% and Milwaukee at a thread-like 0.1%). Essentially, there is no one left to challenge the Pacers for the final playoff spot; it’s just a matter of cleaning up with a couple of wins in the final four contests against teams already locked into playoff positioning.

The champagne is on ice.

Stay tuned.

Other deep thoughts:

  • Looking for a time-killer at work this week? Play ESPN’s playoff predictor and try to get the Pacers into the Finals. Odds are between 0.2% and 0.3%. Good luck!

Topics: Charlotte Bobcats, Game Recap, New Orleans Hornets, Paul George

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