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If you're an Indiana Pacers fan, you couldn't have dreamed up a better path laid for your team for the remainder of the regular season and into the playoffs.
For the last nine games of the regular season, the Pacers play only two teams currently with a winning record. The first is a set of games with the sputtering Philadelphia 76ers who have lost four in a row and seven of their last 10 games. The other game, against the Chicago Bulls, is the last game of the season, when playoff seeds will likely be settled.
If that weren't enough, four of the other games are against three of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference (Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers and the Detroit Pistons). Not a bad way to coast into the playoffs.
Their first-round opponent as of this writing is the ongoing drama capital of basketball, the Orlando Magic. The Magic, which recently just experienced its second six-game losing streak of the season, were blown out twice in a one-week period by the Linsanity-less and Amare-less New York Knicks.
If the Magic continue their free-fall down the standings, the Pacers will be matched up with the aforementioned New York Knicks. This match-up is favorable for Indiana for a multitude of reasons.
First, the Knicks will be trying to re-integrate Jeremy Lin and Amare Stoudemire into a lineup that has been clicking on all cylinders as a result of running isolation plays for Carmelo Anthony. Integrating Lin and Stoudemire back in the flow of the system might eventually work if they had some regular season games to accomplish this. Unfortunately for the Knicks, the duo won't be reunited until the first round of the playoffs at the earliest, potentially against these Pacers.
Second, outside of Tyson Chandler, the New York Knicks don't have the defensive and offensive balance in the frontcourt to matchup with Hibbert, West, Hansbrough and George. Carmelo Anthony is great, just not on defense. If these two teams meet in the first round, look for the big men of the Pacers to wreak havoc in the post.
With the favorable path the Pacers have into the first round of the playoffs, this should give the team considerable confidence as they head into playoff series against tougher opponents like Miami, Chicago or Boston. A win in these series is not guaranteed by any means (Indiana will be underdogs in all three potential matchups), but the Pacers, a team brimming with confidence that can go nine deep, will be a tough out, regardless of the matchup.