For much of the 2014-2015 NBA season, the Indiana Pacers were a longshot to make the playoffs. But that is no longer the case, as Indiana controls their postseason destiny on the final day of the regular season.
With a record of 38-43 the Pacers are a full-game ahead of the Brooklyn Nets, who are their only competition for the No.8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Nets own the tiebreaker, but Indiana would clinch the final postseason berth in the East by defeating the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night. Indiana can still get in with a loss if the Nets aren’t able to defeat the Orlando Magic.
Even though the Pacers are in the driver’s seat, they are no lock for the No.8 spot. Brooklyn is heavily favored at home against Orlando, who’s lost 28 of their 40 games on the road. It won’t be easy for Indiana to win in Memphis, where the Grizzlies have won 30 times this season.
The Grizzlies will be motivated, considering they are looking to move up to the No.5 seed and get home-court advantage in the first round. But with Mike Conley and Tony Allen out, and the team having already secured a spot in the postseason, the Pacers are favored on the road.
Indiana had been the second-best team in the East for two years running, losing to the Miami Heat in the conference finals in both 2013 and 2014. They lost Lance Stephenson to the Charlotte Hornets via free agency, and Paul George suffered a broken leg, which looked to be season-ending. After losing two of their top three players and getting nothing in return, Indiana wasn’t considered a threat to do much of anything this year.
The Pacers performed as expected for the first three months of the season, going 17-32. They quickly turned things around, winning 21 of their next 32 games, putting themselves in a position to play the Atlanta Hawks in the first round. Point guard George Hill missed nearly half of the season with an injury, and his return began the team’s resurgence. George managed to get back on the court with six games left, and he’s added 10.2 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.
Despite their improved play, the Pacers were still expected to miss the playoffs at the start of April. But six straight victories, including an overtime win over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday, have them on the cusp of making the postseason. The Nets have lost three of their last four games.
Atlanta would be a heavy favorite over Indiana in a seven-game series, having won 60 games and dominating the rest of the conference. The Hawks didn’t have any trouble with the Pacers this season, winning all three of their head-to-head matchups by an average of 15 points. However, all three of those games came before February when Indiana was playing their worst and Atlanta was at their peak. The No.1 seed in the East has gone just 11-9 in their last 20 games.
Indiana and Atlanta met in the first round of last year’s playoffs with their roles reversed. As the top seed in the East, the Pacers barely got by the Hawks, winning the series in seven games. Atlanta won three of the first five games, holding Roy Hibbert to just 5.3 points and 3.7 rebounds per game in the series.