Pacers loss to Bulls foreshadows potential nightmare Play-In scenario

The Pacers recent loss to Chicago shows a potential worst-case Play-In scenario.

Indiana Pacers v Chicago Bulls
Indiana Pacers v Chicago Bulls / Patrick McDermott/GettyImages

Name a better combination than the Indiana Pacers and losing to inferior teams.

Once again, the Pacers reminded their fans why everything is not all sunshine and rainbows yet with Wednesday's contest against the Chicago Bulls being a train wreck from start to finish. After their overtime thriller two weeks ago which saw Chicago come out on top after an inspiring performance from DeMar DeRozan, the Pacers played like they lost all confidence and momentum, as if Chicago was an invisible wall to halt their progress right where it stood.

Despite scoring 145 and 133 points in their last two games, respectively, the Pacers were held to under 100 points on Wednesday for the first time this season, as a combination of Chicago's impressive defense and Indiana's sheer lack of shot-making drove them to shoot only 40% from the field and 31% from deep as well as 78% from the free throw line. On the contrary, Chicago played like they were fighting for the NBA title, shooting 50% from the field and 44% from deep en route to scoring 125 points and leading the entire way.

For a Pacers team that finally seemed to conquer their back-to-back demons in the previous game against the Clippers, it seemed like their fifth game and city in eight days finally caught up to them and they played completely uninspired basketball save for a failed comeback attempt in the third quarter. This marked their third loss to the Chicago Bulls, ending the season series 3-1 in Chicago's favor and cementing another chapter in the Pacers losing to inferior teams.

The Indiana Pacers might have to play the Bulls again in a play-in game

This brings up a terrifying scenario not thought of before. Currently, the Pacers still hold the sixth seed in the East, sitting a game ahead of Miami, however, the Heat have played two fewer games than Indiana and can very well tie if not overtake the Pacers in a very short time.

If this happens, and Indiana falls to the bottom two playoff seeds, they will have to play in the Play-In Tournament to make the playoffs. This matches Indiana up against either the Philadelphia 76ers with a returning Joel Embiid, or the Miami Heat, against whom they have struggled against and face one more time before the end of the season either way.

Provided Indiana beats the Heat or Sixers in this scenario, they are in the playoffs and face the Milwaukee Bucks, a favorable matchup to some. However, if they do not win the first Play-In game, they will have to face the winner of the Hawks vs Bulls 9 vs 10 matchup.

With the Hawks missing Trae Young and the Bulls being impressive as of late, Chicago will most likely come out on top in that matchup. This would set up Indiana with a win-or-go-home matchup against the Bulls, a team they have struggled with this season, for a chance to snag the eighth seed and run headfirst to their doom in a first-round matchup against the Boston Celtics.

This is why capturing a top-six seed is important for Indiana. This team has shown countless times how inconsistent they are, and a one-game elimination series for playoff seeding might just be their worst nightmare. If worst comes to worst, the Pacers may find themselves fighting for scraps in the Play-In instead of taking a team like the Cavaliers or Magic to the limit.

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To avoid this, Indiana has to step it up in the final eight games of the season and take care of inferior teams. From this point on, they can no longer afford to play down to their competition, as an entire season of doing exactly that has led them to this moment, fighting for playoff seeding and looking to avoid facing Boston or sitting at home during the playoffs altogether.