Playoff Push: Don't count out the Pacers just yet
By Maurice Brooks
With Jermaine O'Neal back in the lineup, the Pacers will be a tough out down the stretch.
Remember the 1977 Bee Gees classic, Stayin' Alive?
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive.
If the Pacers haven't adopted this as their official theme song yet, maybe they should.
Indiana stayed alive in its quest for the eighth and final playoff spot on Tuesday by turning away the visiting Hawks, 112-98. A victory by Atlanta would have eliminated the Pacers from postseason contention.
Instead, Indiana lives to sing another day.
With just four games remaining on their schedule, the Pacers, who own the tiebreaker against the Hawks by virtue of winning the season series, trail Atlanta by just two games.
The Pacers, who are 9-3 in their last 12 games, have received a big boost on the defensive end of the floor thanks to Jermaine O'Neal's return from a knee injury.
Up next for Indiana is a Friday trip to Philly to take on the red-hot Sixers, who are in a three-team fight with the Cavaliers and Wizards for the fourth spot in the East.
The Pacers close out the season at home Saturday against Charlotte, on the road Monday against Washington and at home Wednesday against the Knicks.
Meanwhile, the Hawks are in position to earn their first playoff berth since the 1998-99 season. Atlanta faces the Knicks on Friday before hosting the Celtics (Saturday) and Magic (Tuesday) and wrapping up the regular season in Miami on Wednesday.
The final team slugging it out for a playoff spot in the East is the Nets, who are four games behind the Hawks and two games in back of the Pacers. A loss by New Jersey against Toronto or a win by the Hawks on Friday, would mean that the Nets would miss the postseason for the first time since 2001.