The Indiana Pacers are six games away from wrapping up the 2010-2011 regular season. At 34-42, they are holding on to the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. The Charlotte Bobcats trail the Pacers by one game, while the Milwaukee Bucks trail the Pacers by three games.
Both the Bucks and Bobcats have eight games remaining. With a race this tight, the remaining six games for the Pacers will all be considered "must-win" games. Here is what the Pacers have left on their quest for their first playoff appearance since 2006.
Before looking at the Pacers remaining six games, I want to look at the games still on the schedule for Charlotte and Milwaukee.
Charlotte: April 1: @ Orlando, April 3: vs. Washington, April 5th @ Cleveland, April 6: vs. Orlando, April 8: @ Miami, April 10: vs. Detroit, April 11: @ New Jersey, April 13: vs. Atlanta.
Summary: The Bobcats have a realistic chance of winning five of the remaining eight games. I have to assume they will lose tonight at Orlando, the 8th at Miami and either the 6th at home against Orlando, or the 13th at home against Atlanta. A loss at New Jersey is also possible, but for the sake of argument, I will assume they beat the Nets. A 5-3 record seems to be a realistic estimate of the last eight games for the Bobcats.
Milwaukee: April 1: @ Indiana, April 2: vs. Philadelphia, April 5: @ Orlando, April 6: @ Miami, April 8: @ Detroit, April 9: vs. Cleveland, April 11: vs. Toronto, April 13: @ Oklahoma City.
Summary: The schedule doesn't do the Bucks any favors. If they win one of the two games against Indiana and Philly, and then lose at Orlando, Miami and Oklahoma City, they will have very little chance to catch the Pacers or Bobcats. A 4-4 record seems possible. A loss tonight in Indiana could seal the Bucks fate.
Tonight's game in Indianapolis is huge for both teams. The Pacers could take a two game lead over Charlotte if they win and Charlotte loses in Orlando. If Milwaukee wins, they will pull to within two of the Pacers, and the Pacers could fall into a tie with Charlotte if the Bobcats pull off the upset in Orlando. This game will also be for the tie-breaker, which Indiana owns with Charlotte but not with Milwaukee. Yet.
The Bucks won the first two meetings by a total of six points, while the Pacers won the last meeting in February by six, with Danny Granger scoring 30 points—this should be another close game. The Pacers are coming off two straight home wins, including the emotional win over the Celtics on Monday. Final Four fever may have come over Indianapolis this weekend, but this may be the biggest Pacers home game in five years. I think the Pacers will ride the wave of momentum to another victory tonight over Milwaukee.
The Pacers travel to New Orleans on Sunday to play the Hornets. New Orleans is currently 43-32, and tied with Portland for the sixth seed in the Western Conference. The Memphis Grizzlies are currently the eighth seed in the West, but trail both New Orleans and Portland by only one game. This game could mean a lot for the Hornet's seeding, so they will likely leave it all on the floor.
The Pacers won the previous meeting 94-93 back in December on Mike Dunleavy's tip in at the buzzer. Darren Collison played well (18 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds) against his old team, and he will have to again since Chris Paul is being forced to do more with David West out of the lineup. Because of the way the last game went, I think New Orleans will avenge their previous loss and take this one on their home court.
Washington is sitting at 18-56 and have had one of the worst road seasons in NBA history. This will also be Washington's third game in four days.
They should come to Indy hungry after the Pacers beat them the last two times out. Washington beat Indiana 104-90 in their first meeting, but since then, the Pacers have won by scores of 95-86 and 113-96. This is a game the Pacers should win easily, but they have shown all year a tendency to play to their competition. Hopefully this is a game they come out early and put the Wizards away.
The Hawks have played well lately and are sitting at 43-32. This game will come after the Hawks have a four game stretch against Orlando, Boston, Houston and San Antonio.
The Pacers are 0-3 against the Hawks this year, losing by margins of 102-92, 97-83, and 108-93. Josh Smith has scored 25 or more in two of those games. I don't think the Pacers match up well with the Hawks. I could very easily see the Pacers losing this game. For the purpose of playing Devil's advocate, let's say the Pacers lose this game.
The 37-38 Knicks are holding on to the seventh seed in the East, but have struggled as of late. This game comes before the Knicks' final two games of the year against Chicago and Boston. They will likely use the Pacers game as a tune up for those final two games and the playoffs.
The possibility of the Knicks overlooking the Pacers to instead look ahead to Chicago and Boston is unlikely after the way the Pacers beat them last month in back to back games. The Pacers won 106-93 in New York and 119-117 in Indiana on Danny Granger's game winner. Their previous meeting in January was won by the Knicks, 98-92. It seems the Knicks' biggest advantage against the Pacers in that first game was getting the ball inside to Amare and solid play by Danilo Gallinari and Raymond Felton. Gallinari and Felton are gone, and since the trade, the Pacers are 2-0 against New York. I think they will win this game also, which could factor into not only the race for the eighth seed, but also the seventh seed if New York continues to falter.
The Magic are 47-28 and seem firmly planted in the fourth seed in the East. This is their last game of the season also, and that could be a good thing for Indiana. If the Magic have the fourth seed wrapped up, which it appears they will, they could rest some people for longer than usual in this game.
The Magic beat the Pacers 90-86 in November and 111-96 in Janurary with Dwight Howard putting up big numbers in both games. The Pacers do not match up well with Orlando, and their only hope of winning this game may be if Orlando does in fact sit their starters for longer than usual. Then again, the Pacers have won in Miami and in L.A. this year, so you never know. I will assume everybody plays as much as they usually do, and Orlando beats the Pacers once again.
If everything shakes out like I assume it will (which never happens), the Pacers will finish their remaining six games 3-3, while the Bobcats will finish 5-3. If the Pacers can win tonight against Milwaukee, the Bucks will be all but out of the race.
The Bobcats will either have to slip up against a team they should beat, or the Pacers will have to win a game it seems they shouldn't to beat the Bobcats by a game. Both of these teams have shown all year they are unpredictable—they have both won games I never thought they would, and they have lost games they should have never lost. The good news, for the Pacers, is that they own the tie-breaker with Charlotte since they went 4-0 against the Bobcats this year. An outright, one-game win is not necessary for the Pacers; they only have to tie the Bobcats.
No matter if these teams win the games they should and lose the games they should, or are as unpredictable as they have been for the first 70-something games, the last two weeks should be interesting. The young Pacers would take a big step in getting the city of Indianapolis behind them again by making the playoffs for the first time since 2006. In two weeks, we will know if they did just that.