With roughly a month left before the NBA takes a week long vacay for the All Star game, the Pacers are sitting pretty in third place in the East. A mere two nights ago the Pacers knocked off the first place Miami Heat in convincing fashion, and have a chance to make headway on the second place New York Knicks tonight. A win tonight would be huge, but the Pacers still have a lot of work to do before the All Star break, and the schedule doesn’t look to get any easier.
A win tonight would be the Pacers’ third straight win at home against a playoff team. It would be a statement win the rest of the league couldn’t ignore. The problem arises when you look ahead at Indiana’s schedule. After a game that doesn’t raise much concern, a home game against lowly Charlotte, the Pacers play 7 of their next 8 on the road. The only home game in that stretch is against playoff-bound Houston, and is followed by a 4 game trip out west to Tennessee, Oregon, Utah, and Colorado. I bet you had to think about which teams I meant, eh? Anyway, it’s tough to play on the road. It’s disappointing that the Pacers decided to build momentum at Banker’s Life right before they ship out for two weeks.
Ideally a road trip like that would lead to a home stand against cupcakes for a couple days. You know, to get reacquainted with things around Indianapolis and whatnot. But no, the Pacers start the month of February off with a week that features games against Miami, Chicago, and Atlanta. Miami is currently leading the conference. Atlanta was ahead of Indiana in the standings until last night, and could be ahead by 11 PM tonight. Chicago is a single game behind the Pacers in the Central division. I’m not implying the standings won’t change by the time this week from Hell approaches, but I do think these 4 teams will be in direct competition for playoff position.
While the Pacers’ recent success is all fine and dandy, it’s the results of the big games before the All Star break that will show this team’s true colors. Out of the remaining 18 games, the Pacers will face 6 teams at home currently vying for playoff position, and have 8 other road games. If the Pacers win 11 or 12 of those games, giving them a record of 33-20 heading into the break, I think we can safely say the Pacers have righted the ship, and are legitimate contenders in not only the East, but the NBA as a whole.