Believe it or not, the Indiana Pacers haven’t shifted in the standings since Victor Oladipo’s injury.
The Pacers are one of only six teams in the NBA with 40 or more wins, a group that includes the Bucks, Raptors, Warriors, 76ers, and Nuggets. That is some stellar company for a team that is lacking its superstar.
Now, is it possible to maintain this pace all the way through the season’s end? Logically, probably not. At some point, Oladipo’s absence will become more tangible than it is right now. Yeah, it’s a nice feel-good moment for Pacers fans and a typical response from this brotherhood of a team, but it feels like a dip in the Eastern Conference hierarchy is coming.
Indy’s just above the 76ers in the standings, a team who’s pretty much handled the blue and gold this season (winning two of the three meetings). The Celtics are knocking on the door as well, just a couple games behind their division rivals in Philly.
Still, it’s never too early to think about possible playoff scenarios. Regardless of whether or not the Pacers move around in the rankings, they’ll put up a fight against any team out there. Here’s some of the intriguing matchups that Nate McMillan’s squad might have to face:
1) Brooklyn Nets
If the season ended today, Indy would be squaring off against an up and coming Brooklyn squad. The Nets are one of those teams that don’t really have an alpha dog. Sure, D’Angelo Russell is an All-Star and he’s in the midst of a breakout season (and making the Lakers look bad in the process). However, Kenny Atkinson’s lineup is tough, physical, and has a similar team-first mentality like Indiana.
The thing about the Nets that sticks out is that they match up really well with the Pacers. Jarrett Allen is more than capable of handling both Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. Allen is deadly in the pick-and-roll game with Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie and reminds me a little of how Houston uses Clint Capela. Then there is Caris LeVert, who was a front-runner for Most Improved Player before a leg injury sidelined him for a couple of months. LeVert can bring the ball up and defend multiple positions, so Bojan Bogdanovic and Wes Matthews could have their hands full with this guy. (A fun fact about Caris: the Pacers drafted him in 2016, but was traded to Brooklyn for Thaddeus Young. Worked out for both sides, I’d say.)
I think the Pacers would come out on top here, but it’s not a stretch to say that Brooklyn would push it to seven games.
2) Boston Celtics
Say Indy gets leapfrogged by Philly in the next month or so. It would work out for the Sixers, who’ve always had a problem with Boston in the Embiid/Simmons era. For the Pacers, though, it could be an uphill battle.
The Celtics’ chemistry has been out of whack for most of the year. They’re right there with the Lakers for the title of “Most Disappointing Team” of 2019. Gordon Hayward hasn’t been able to get back to his old ways, which is totally understandable, but when Brad Stevens moved him to the second unit, Boston’s fortunes turned a little bit.
The last few weeks, however, the C’s have struggled. Some low points have come and gone, including a loss to the tanking Bulls and a blowout loss to Kawhi and the Raptors this past Tuesday. If the Celtics stumble into the playoffs as they’re playing right now, I love Indy’s chances, especially with home court advantage.
Then, there’s the possibility that Brad Stevens kicks it into another gear and puts his coaching abilities to the test. If the Celtics put together some momentum towards the end of the season, McMillan could be in for a tough series.
3) Philadelphia 76ers
I’m not a big believer in the Sixers’ status as a title contender, but they are still a team that the Pacers wouldn’t want to meet in the first round.
The Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris trades pretty much gutted Philly’s already questionable bench, even though it bolstered their starting five. I can see Sabonis having problems with Embiid’s backup, Boban Marjanovic, but no other bench players stand out to me on the Sixers.
The big thing here is Embiid. Save for Al Horford, there’s nobody in the league that can guard him, but there’s really nobody on the Pacers that can. Turner has always had problems with bigger, more built centers in the middle.
The Pacers could surprise some people in the playoffs, but Philly is the team they’ll want to avoid if they can. Brooklyn would be a grind and Boston could go either way, but Pacers fans should feel pretty confident regardless of who they draw in the tournament.