The Miami Heat have caught the Indiana Pacers and, as of Tuesday morning, held a percentage edge for the No. 1 seeding in the Eastern Conference playoffs. If the season ended then, the Heat would have home-court advantage until the NBA Finals.
Since the start of the season, the Pacers had boldly said they want that No. 1 seeding because they felt it would give them the edge they were missing when they lost to the Heat in Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals. It gave them a focus to get to the top of the Eastern Conference and stay there for most of the season. Now what?
This could be a dark day for the Pacers – or it could pull them together to make a strong run through the playoffs.
It’s understandable to be at least a little bit nervous for the Pacers and their fans. They are in that precarious position where they are so close to reaching their dreams of playing for, and possibly winning, an NBA championship. But it all could slip away.
Looking at the big picture, it appears that something has caused a disruption in their chemistry. The first real clue was their record in March. The Pacers went 8-10 in March. In the four months before that, they had gone 44-13. In the past two weeks, they have scored fewer than 80 points in five of their nine games.
To explain the change in fortune, sportswriters and fans have been fingerpointing ad players they think are “selfish” or who are shooting too much. Armchair critics and fans have also been claiming that the team’s trades haven’t worked well, such as the trade of former All-Star Danny Granger, and that has disrupted team chemistry.
During a 103-77 thrashing by the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night, their fans booed the Pacers off the court, expressing their frustration with what has happened with their team.
The Pacers have worked so hard to be in the position they are now. After a run to the playoffs under Coach Rick Carlisle in the mid-2000s, the team posted five consecutive seasons with fewer than 40 wins. They rebuilt through the draft and smart trades. In 2010-11, they made the first round of the playoffs but lost. In 2011-12, they made the Eastern Conference semifinals, and last season, they lost to the Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The good news for the Pacers is the season did not end Monday. They still have time to pull it together for this season, but if they don’t, they set a path toward an uncertain future.
It’s not too late for the Pacers yet. On Wednesdaythey beat the Detroit Pistons, a team that has proven how hard it is to get back to the playoffs since it decided it was time to break up its championship team. The rest of the Pacers’ opponents this week are currently Eastern Conference playoff teams. The Pacers also play the Toronto Raptors at 7 p.m. EDT Friday on NBA League Pass and the Atlanta Hawks at 6 p.m. EDT Sunday on NBA TV. All of the Pacers’ games also are on Fox Sports Midwest in Indianapolis, and Wednesday’s game is also on Fox Sports Detroit in Michigan.
Meanwhile, the Heat have four home games, but they have had to manage a lot of injuries lately. They face the lottery-bound Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. EDT and the lottery-bound Minnesota Timberwolves at 7:30 p.m. EDT Friday on NBA League Pass. (It should be noted that the Timberwolves, led by power forward Kevin Love, would be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.) At 1 p.m. Sunday on ABC, the Heat take on the New York Knicks, who are trying to scratch and claw their way to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Heat play the definite playoff team from New York, the Brooklyn Nets, at 8 p.m. next Tuesday on TNT.
And speaking of the lottery…
The Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, and the rest of the lottery-bound teams started learning this week which of the early-entry college players will be available for the 2014 NBA Draft so that they can start thinking about how to put together a team that can compete in the playoffs again.
Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins, who has been ranked as the top college prospect for much of the season, announced Monday that he would forego the rest of his college eligibility to enter the NBA Draft, and Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis also said he would turn pro.
Milwaukee still has the best chance of winning the draft lottery. The Bucks have two fewer wins than the 76ers with eight games to play for each team. The Magic have won five more games than the Sixers but are only two games behind the Boston Celtics and Utah Jazz, who currently have the fourth-best odds to win the lottery.
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