Indiana Pacers' Most Important Remaining Games

Bryan Shaffer@Bryan_ShafferFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 06:  Paul George #24 of the Indiana Pacers during the NBA game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on April 6, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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14 games separate the Indiana Pacers from the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs.

Though Indiana has already secured their postseason spot, they still have a lot to play for. They currently stand  tied with the New York Knicks for the second seed in the Eastern Conference, and are only two games ahead of the Brooklyn Nets.

If the Pacers fall behind both the Nets and Knicks, they face the daunting prospect of a second-round matchup against the streaking Miami Heat. Not exactly an enticing draw for Indiana.

They also have seven games remaining against teams currently seeded in the playoffs. The Pacers have gone 15-19 against currently-seeded playoff teams, so they will need to play hard and grind out some wins in those games.

Here are the key games remaining on the Pacers' regular season schedule.

Houston Rockets

Location: Toyota Center

Date: March 27

With the offseason additions of James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, the Rockets have become a formidable team in the West.

The Pacers handed the Rockets a 105-95 loss at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on January 18.

In that first matchup, the Pacers' stout defense was able to get the upper hand on the Rockets' offense, but the Rockets are a different team in Houston; their woeful 14-21 road margin jumps to an excellent 25-10 record at the Toyota Center.

Stopping the prolific Houston offense, which leads the league with 106.4 points per game, will be a great test for the Pacers' defense, especially in a hostile road game.

An interesting matchup to look for in this game is the efficiency of Houston on fastbreaks. They average 18.4 fastbreak points per game, second best in the league. Indiana has been very effective in limiting their opponents on the fastbreak, with a league-best 1.280 opponent fastbreak efficiency.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Location: Bankers Life Fieldhouse

Date: April 5 

Outside of a game against the Heat, there is no better litmus test for a team than a matchup against Kevin Durant and the Thunder.

Oklahoma City has played quite an encore to their run to the NBA finals in 2012. Their 52-19 record is second best in the Western Conference, and their 106.2 points per game ranks a hair below the Rockets for second best in the NBA.

In addition to being a big test for the vaunted Indiana defense, the Thunder will test the Pacers on the boards as well. The Thunder average 43.5 rebounds per game, not too far off the 46.3 boards per game with which the Pacers pace the league.

Oklahoma City is also a great road team. Their 21-14 road record places them third behind only the Heat and the Spurs in the ranking of road warriors. This game will be a true test of the Pacers' ability to defend their home court.

Brooklyn Nets

Location: Bankers Life Fieldhouse

Date: April 12

Brooklyn already owns a pair of wins against the Pacers, including a 89-84 overtime battle in Indiana.

As it is not unlikely that the Pacers and Nets claim the second and third seeds in the East, this could be a playoff preview. The Pacers would love to get a nice win against a team that has had their number thus far this season.

This game will pit the Pacers against a tough defensive team. The biggest question mark surrounding Indiana is their capabilities on offense.

Indiana has shot the third-worst percentage from the field of any team in the NBA, ahead of only Cleveland and Charlotte. Brooklyn's defense allows the fifth fewest points per game to opponents.

Brooklyn does not have a great offense, as they score just 95.9 points per game, so this will be a fun defensive battle. The Pacers offense will get a nice challenge by trying to exploit a very good defense just enough to win a close, low-scoring game.

In the playoffs, teams need to win those low-scoring, grind-em-out kind of games, and so this will show how the Pacers fare in such matchups.

New York Knicks

Location: Madison Square Garden

Date: April 14

There has been no team as mercurial as the New York Knicks. Case in point: In their past 26 games alone, they have posted a pair of impressive four-game winning streaks to go along with a couple of ugly losing streaks.

The Knicks and Pacers are currently in a deadlock for the second seed in the Eastern Conference.

The two teams have played each other this season, with the Pacers' leading the season series 2-1. Each team has served on its home court, a trend which the Pacers hope to break.

Madison Square Garden is a tough place to win, though. The Knicks have a 24-10 record on their home court, tied with the Celtics for second best in the Eastern Conference.

The Knicks have a tough stretch between now and the Pacers game; eight of their eleven games in that interval are against current playoff-ranked teams.

This game could go far in determining playoff seeding. The prize of this game could be the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, and home court advantage until the Eastern Conference Finals.

Boston Celtics

Location: TD Bank Garden

Date: April 16

The Pacers' penultimate game is the last of three consecutive games against fellow Eastern Conference playoff teams.

Boston is one of the teams Indiana could end pitted up against in their opening playoff round. That would be an interesting matchup between two defensive-oriented teams. Boston has been able to eke out wins in each of the teams' previous two matchups. In both of those games, the Pacers were held to under 81 points.

The Celtics should have Kevin Garnett back in their lineup by that point, and the Pacers should have Danny Granger, so this time we can see each team as they will look in the playoffs.

Boston is a battle-tested playoff team, and they will be no easy match for the Pacers. The biggest advantage the Pacers have over the Celtics is size. The Celtics and Pacers sit on opposite ends of the rebounding spectrum, with Indiana as the league's best-rebounding team, and Boston as its worst.

It will be interesting to see if that difference can swing things in the Pacers favor during this possible playoff preview.


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