Indiana Pacers Are Four Wins Away from Playoffs

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The Indiana Pacers finally seem to recognize the opportunity in front of them.

Now 35-42 after three straight wins with five games remaining in the regular season, the Pacers lead the Charlotte Bobcats by two games (and essentially three games with the season head-to-head tiebreak) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Four wins secures Indiana’s first trip to the postseason since Danny Granger’s rookie year in 2005-06.

By Drew Allen

There’s a lot of concrete on-court evidence to think the Pacers will seal the deal and continue playing beyond their regular-season finale April 13. Here are a few of those things:

  • Competitive against top teams in East. This really is no surprise to those who have followed the Pacers the past few seasons; Indiana has become notorious for playing to the level of its competition each night, which has resulted in spirited efforts and wins against the best teams in the NBA as well as clunkers and losses to the league’s worst squads. It’s a disturbing trend during the regular season, but it’s good news in this instance because Indiana will only face the best of the best come playoff time. The Pacers have pocketed home victories the last two weeks against the first-place Chicago Bulls — likely Indiana’s first-round opponent should it make the playoffs — and the third-place Boston Celtics. Of course, the win against Boston came on the heels of a pair of horrid weekend losses to bottom-feeders Sacramento and Detroit, but the trend could play in the Pacers’ favor in these last five games. Four of their last five games come against playoff contenders (New Orleans, Atlanta, New York and Orlando).
  • Younger players picking up steam. One of the biggest changes interim coach Frank Vogel made when he took the reins at the end of January was establishing a consistent lineup that featured the team’s youth. Naturally, that change has come with its ups and downs, but the younger Pacers are impressing down the stretch. Darren Collison, who is most effective when he can score, has averaged 16 points in Indiana’s last three games. Roy Hibbert has racked up 17.7 points in that same stretch, including a stellar 26-point effort against Boston. Brandon Rush, who has struggled to find consistency in his game during his three years in the NBA, has been effective from 3-point range the last three contests, shooting 42.8 percent from beyond the arc. Collison and Hibbert are capable of maintaining their play on their own, and if teammates can keep creating shot opportunities for Rush, he should continue making timely shots.
  • Dunleavy’s return. The Pacers lost a great deal of offense in late February when Mike Dunleavy sustained a thumb injury and subsequently missed 19 games. Dunleavy showed well Wednesday in a 111-101 win against Detroit in his first on-court action since being sidelined with injury, scoring nine points. It obviously will take the former Duke standout a little more time to get back to game speed, but once he does, he’ll provide Indiana with another dangerous weapon from 3-point territory.

While the Pacers appear in good shape both in their own play and with how their closest competitors are playing, they still have to focus on the task at hand: winning four of their final five games to end a four-season playoff drought. The first of those games will be no cakewalk; the New Orleans Hornets enter today’s contest at 7 p.m. ET standing in the West exactly where Indiana stands in the East: eighth place. However, the Hornets, led by arguably the top point guard in the game in Chris Paul, possess a winning record at 43-33.

The countdown begins.

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