Honestly, we don’t know what the Indiana Pacers (40-20) will do in the 2019 NBA playoffs. What we do know is they are a lock to make the postseason. They also look like a team that’s capable of winning a playoff series. Despite losing the exploits of their best player Victor Oladipo, the Pacers are (8-2) in their last 10 games. They have also solidified their No. 3 spot in the playoff race.
In other words, the Pacers are in the middle of the race between the four legitimate Eastern Conference Final contenders. Yes, the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors seem to be a lock to earn the top two seeds. However, the Philadelphia 76ers are two games in back of the Pacers, while the Boston Celtics are three full games behind the Pacers. Meaning, there’s an increasing chance they 76ers and Celtics will face off in the first round.
The Pacers defeated the Raptors on the day Oladipo suffered a season-ending knee injury. However, they followed up the loss of their star play with four straight defeats. They lost to Memphis, Golden State, Washington, and Orlando. It seemed like the bottom was about to fall out. Instead, the Pacers came together to win 8 of their last 9 games, including a six game winning streak. Their only loss came to the Bucks on the night before All-star break commenced.
The Pacers have come out of the break with two more wins. They have a pair of road games before ending the month with a home date against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Their final 22 games are going to be critical in how the playoffs shape up.
They have 12 road games left on the schedule. More importantly, these contests will be telling in how the Pacers finish out the regular season. It will also set the stage for a possible playoff run. They visit the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks this week. However, it’s the impending six road games in March that will be fascinating.
The Pacers will face the Bucks and 76ers in consecutive games. They aren’t back to backs, but those Eastern conference matchups will be important for all parties involved. Furthermore, the Pacers have one more west coast road trip waiting. Currently, all four teams are in the playoff picture. They begin the trip against the Denver Nuggets. Then the Pacers have a back to back with the Portland Trailblazers and Los Angeles Clippers. They finish their road trip with the Warriors. A few days later, the Pacers return home to face the Nuggets again.
So, in a matter of eight days, the Pacers will face 3 of the top 4 teams in the Western Conference. Don’t worry, they will also hit the road once more to face the Oklahoma City Thunder. In fact, they will play the Thunder twice within two weeks. As a result, the Pacers will play each of the top teams from the Western Conference.
Furthermore, the Pacers have three total games against the Celtics and 76ers. They 76ers have one head to head meeting left, while the Celtics can have more of an impact on the standings late in the season. In all, 15 of the final 22 games are going to be against playoff teams at least. Meaning, we will have a great indication of what the Pacers will look like coming into the postseason. According to Tankathon.com, the Pacers have the No. 6 toughest remaining schedule in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Celtics are No. 8 and the 76ers are No. 22 in remaining schedule strength.
Even with Oladipo in the lineup, the Pacers already played like a well-oiled machine. He led the Pacers in scoring at 18.8 points per game. The Pacers have seven other players scoring in double figures. Currently, Bojan Bogdanovic leads the team at 16.9 points per game. Now, Domantis Sabonis is the second leading scorer with 14.1 points per game and 9.3 rebounds in 24 minutes of action. Sabonis provides incredible bench strength for a team that needs to utilize all of their parts. Fellow 22-year-old Myles Turner leads the Pacers with 2.7 blocks per game, while chipping in with 13.5 points per game.
Another factor that makes the Pacers so likable is how seamless Wesley Matthews has fit in during his first four games with the squad. Matthews has started all four contests to fill in for Oladipo. He is already shooting 40 percent from 3-point range, while scoring 13.5 points per game. Although Matthews won’t provide the same energy going to the hoop as Oladipo, he is a better spot up shooter. As a result, may provide a different method with the same result.
Turner and Tyreke Evans are day to day with minor hip and ankle injuries. If they are able to go on Monday night, the Pacers should have their full complement of players against the Pistons. Still, it’s more important for the Pacers to have all of their pieces in March fully healthy than to rush them into games in late February. It’s the only way we will know how serious the Pacers will be in the postseason.