What do you think? I find this more as a way to cope with our current 17-11 record and 4-game losing streak, and what it could turn into by the end of the season. We're 6 games over .500 (.607 to be exact), and we can gain six wins over this next streak before the All-Star break. So basically, who of the other Top 7 in the East would you rather play in the first round?Originally Posted by imbtyler of Postgame OnlineThe Indiana Pacers are currently struggling through a four-game losing streak, recently losing to the Miami Heat by 15 points, and beginning the second game of a back-to-back-to-back. Tonight, they face the Cleveland Cavaliers without Danny Granger and George Hill, which means Paul George will be starting at the small forward spot, and Lance Stephenson will be getting more burn as he (and the rest of the team) tries to find offensive and defensive consistency.
At this point in the season, prior to the Cavaliers game, the Pacers sit at the sixth seed (at 17-11) in the Eastern Conference, a half game below both the Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic (18-11). Tonight, the Hawks play the Phoenix Suns, which will likely result in a win for Atlanta, despite their 90-99 loss on February 6; and the Magic face off against the Philadelphia 76ers in Orlando, which is really a toss-up. With Philly holding the third seed in the East (at 20-9), and having beaten the Magic once already this season, they are the favorites to win the game, which could potentially put the Pacers at the four or fifth seed by the next couple nights (performance pending).
If you look at this from a “journey to the playoffs” perspective, the “schedule losses” that seem to negatively affect our record might not be as harsh and depressing as they seem. If the playoffs were to start tomorrow, and the Eastern Conference seeds were as I project them below, then the Pacers might have a better battle set for them than it looks. Though it would be nicer to have to hold the second or third seed, and be able to play the Celtics or Knicks in the first round, as opposed to the Heat or Bulls, I don’t know if there’s a safe spot for the Pacers to be in the Eastern Eight.
Eastern Conference (projected/adjusted for games up to, but not including, 2/16/12):
Chicago Bulls — 24-7 (no change)
Miami Heat — 23-7 (no change)
Philadelphia 76ers — 21-9 (projecting win over ORL)
Atlanta Hawks — 19-11 (proj. win over PHX)
Indiana Pacers — 18-11 (proj. win over CLE)
Orlando Magic — 18-12 (proj. loss to PHI)
Boston Celtics — 15-13 (proj. loss to DET)
New York Knicks — 15-15 (proj. win over SAC)
With help from ESPN.go.com’s (seemingly-outdated) NBA Playoff Predictor, I came up with these ‘projections’ for the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs:
For the Pacers, they are supposedly “evenly split” with the Atlanta Hawks as far as chances of surviving the first round. However, with the way we’re playing, that could end up being a heavily-played seven-game struggle that ends in victory, or a five-game “gentleman’s sweep” as the Hawks advance. Again, these results hinge heavily on the potential return of Al Horford, and the performances of key Hawks players such as Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, and even Jeff Teague.
Besides the Pacers and Hawks, I can actually see the Knicks squeaking their way out of the eighth seed at some point this season, but if it came down to the Knicks vs. the Chicago Bulls in the first round, I don’t know if I can agree with the Playoff Predictor that the Knicks would manage to upset the Bulls. At least, not with the roster they currently have. If the Knicks actually signed JR Smith, or picked up someone who can perform at the SG position, the potential roster match-ups are kind of stunning:
New York Knicks vs. Chicago Bulls
Jeremy Lin vs. Derrick Rose
Landry Fields/JR Smith vs. Ronnie Brewer/Rip Hamilton
Carmelo Anthony vs. Luol Deng
Amar’e Stoudemire vs. Carlos Boozer
Tyson Chandler vs. Joakim Noah
Based off these potential rosters alone, I would say that the New York Knicks actually have an advantage over the Bulls. It would be hard not to with Melo, Amar’e and Chandler alone, but if the Linsanity continues, and/or JR Smith signs in New York, they could easily give the Bulls a run for their money. In fact, adding JR Smith would be the one factor that might put them as the Miami Heat’s biggest contenders. With the same rosters:
New York Knicks vs. Miami Heat
Jeremy Lin vs. Mario Chalmers/Norris Cole?
JR Smith vs. Dwyane Wade
Carmelo Anthony vs. LeBron James
Amar’e Stoudemire vs. Chris Bosh
Tyson Chandler vs. Joel Anthony/Dexter Pittman?
Though LeBron has the ability to make up for what they lack at the center and power forward positions (even with Bosh), I think that the Knicks line-up above, given time to mesh, could even take the Heat down in six games (a stretch, I know).
Here’s the point to all of this nonsense: wouldn’t you, as a Pacers fan, rather the Pacers fall into a spot on the rankings (though preferably not this early in the season) that would allow for them to play against a team they KNOW they can beat? If, by some wild chance, Milwaukee or Cleveland step up into the sixth or seventh seeds (potentially impossible), then we would have a reason to keep rooting for the Pacers to win *every single game*. However, since any of the top eight teams in the East have the talent and ability to beat any of those other teams, and since it’s still the first half of the season, I don’t know what seed the Pacers would be reaching to stay at.
Fighting the Bulls in the playoffs is kind of the dream that every Pacers player, fan, and staff member is hoping for this year. However, it would be much better to face them in the Eastern Conference Finals than early in the playoffs. There are many factors that can (and probably will) change by the time we actually get started with the playoffs. However, the Pacers would be better off playing against the potentially-Howard-less Orlando Magic, the aging Boston Celtics or even the Philadelphia 76ers, than getting dominated by the Heat and/or Bulls.
So, winning and losing can fluctuate importance throughout the rest of the season. If the Pacers can stay about even (.607 currently), they could end up somewhere between the Magic, the Hawks, and the Sixers, by the end of the season. Taking into account that we will most likely be adding pieces to make us true contenders, we should be able to match up even better against these teams by the time the playoffs roll around in a few months.
Currently, the mid-level, fourth-through-sixth seed is what we can bank on. The easier our battle in the first couple rounds, the better our chances are for having to face lesser teams deeper in the playoffs. The New York Knicks and Boston Celtics have potential to beat teams like the Bulls, Heat, and Sixers. And we have the ability to beat those teams ourselves. We just have to buckle down and get ready.
I’ll post something new about trades and next year’s draft soon, based on who we need to bring in to make our team true contenders, or who we can realistically imagine doing so.
Thanks for reading, enjoy your time.