Pacers near standings nightmare after worst loss of the year vs. Pelicans

After being demolished by the Pelicans, the Indiana Pacers are now tied for the 8th seed, a position they do not want to be in for much longer.

Mar 1, 2024; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA;  Indiana Pacers forward Pascal Siakam (43) drives to the
Mar 1, 2024; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Pascal Siakam (43) drives to the / Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Another day, another slew of inconsistencies for the Indiana Pacers, and this recent loss may be their worst one yet.

Just two days after beating the New Orleans Pelicans convincingly on national TV, the Pacers headed to Louisiana to face the Pelicans in a rematch with some pretty important stakes on the line. If the Pacers had won this game, they would have moved up in the standings to a worst-case tie with Philadelphia and a best-case lone 5th seed, slightly above the 76ers and Magic for once. That being said, it was important for the team to be locked and loaded for Friday's matchup in New Orleans to help their playoff seeding and put them half a game behind the fourth-seeded Knicks.

Unfortunately, this was anything but the case on Friday. To start, Indiana looked completely sluggish on offense and lost on defense in the first quarter. Despite coming off some rest and being relatively energized, the team looked like they were still feeling the effects of Tyrese Haliburton's birthday celebration of the previous day.

While 26 points on 45% from the field isn't inherently terrible, the Pacers completely blew their chance of winning in the first quarter by allowing the Pelicans to put up 48 points on 20/22 shooting in the first 12 minutes. Yes, the Indiana Pacers allowed an NBA team to shoot 91% from the field and score almost 50 points in a quarter, meaning that, at the pace of the first 12 minutes, the Pelicans were on track to score 196 points in the game.

While this didn't happen, what did happen wasn't much better. After the Pelicans increased their lead to as much as 31 points, Indiana's bench unit surprisingly took over in the second quarter and cut the lead down to as little as 11 points. Indeed, the best performers of Friday night's game for the Pacers were undoubtedly from the bench, including Jarace Walker, whose defense, hustle, and playmaking helped set off a 15-0 run in the second quarter to chip away at the Pelicans lead. Unfortunately, this wouldn't amount to much and Indiana entered the half still down 21 points.

Minus the comeback attempts, this story largely continued for the rest of the game, as Indiana was held to only 16 points in the third quarter, their lowest point total in any quarter this season, and ended up losing quite convincingly with a final score of 129-102.

What positives the Pacers can take from this game

Truth be told, there are not many positives to find from this game. Isaiah Jackson led the way with 13 points despite only playing 18 minutes. The bright spot of the night was perhaps the 6/7/6 with three steals and three blocks from Jarace Walker, who led the team in plus/minus with +15 despite only shooting 2/9 from the field.

However, Walker's 2/9 from the field looked like Stephen Curry's levels of efficiency compared to Tyrese Haliburton. Usually counted on for around 20/10 every night, Haliburton looked absolutely horrendous against New Orleans, going 0/7 and not scoring a single point for only the second time in his career and the first time with the Pacers. However, in this case, unlike other low-scoring Haliburton performances where he can at least be counted on for playmaking, he only dished out three assists on the night and finished with a plus/minus of -40, second-worst on the team behind Pascal Siakam.

Every single starter for Indy was a negative plus/minus in fact, with the only positives coming from the bench unit, led by Walker's +15, who was the only Pacer to have a double-digit positive plus/minus.

A win could have pushed Indiana up a spot, surpassing the Magic for at least the sixth seed. Unfortunately, with the loss, the Pacers find themselves near the bottom of the top eight seeds, tied for eighth place with the Miami Heat, who hold the tiebreaker which means the Indiana Pacers are currently the eighth seed in the East, which would match them up against the Heat in the Play-In Tournament if it started today.

This puts the Pacers in an even more dire situation than before, as every game counts now with the season winding down and the playoff picture becoming more concrete. In addition, Indiana holds the 13th strongest schedule left in the season, with a matchup against the Timberwolves, two against the Thunder and Cavaliers, one against the Clippers, another against the Mavericks, and a third against the Magic coming up in the near future.

In contrast, every single team Indiana is competing with for seeding happens to have a much easier strength of schedule, with the fifth-place Knicks having the 15th strongest, the 76ers having the 17th strongest, Miami having the 28th strongest, and the Orlando Magic having the weakest strength of schedule remaining by far.

This is where losing those easy matchups to the Hornets and Trail Blazers starts to hurt, as the Pacers have little to no wiggle room going forward. This team has already shown how untrustworthy they can be in similar situations, and a single-elimination play-in game is the last thing they need, especially if they stay at the eighth seed and Philadelphia moves up, ultimately giving the Pacers a 7 vs 8 Play-In matchup against healthy Joel Embiid and company on the road.

Next. Next story. One thing the Pacers need Tyrese Haliburton to do more of. dark

On somewhat of a bright note, with the 4th through 8th seeds being separated by only a game and a half, the Pacers still have a chance to climb up to as high as the fourth seed if they lock in and build a good stretch of games. Unfortunately, that seems like a tall order for this team, as with every morale-boosting win comes an equally demoralizing loss to go with it. The Indiana Pacers have to be better if they want to compete for the playoffs and not hand a lottery pick over to the Toronto Raptors.