79 games into the regular season, the Indiana Pacers are still fighting for seeding in the Eastern Conference. With the Brooklyn Nets surging from the middle of the pack in the second half of the season, Indiana is battling to avoid the fourth seed and an unfortunate second round matchup.
The Pacers could have clinched the third seed Friday night by beating the Nets at home, but Brooklyn stayed hot with a 117-109 victory. It was the team's worst defensive performance of the season, notes Indy Cornrows, SB Nation's Pacers blog.
Indiana has now lost three times in its past four games, only managing to beat a struggling Cavaliers team at home. For a supposed contender in the East, it might be time to wonder exactly what's going wrong with these guys.
At first glance, one would have to look to the team's elite defense.
Teams are shooting nearly 49 percent against Indiana in the past four games, way up from the team's league-best 41.9 percent mark. Deron Williams, Kyrie Irving, John Wall and Russell Westbrook averaged 30.8 points and 8.8 assists per game in the same span. Great point guards have given this team fits.
With a 49-30 record, the Pacers have already secured homecourt advantage for the first round of the postseason, but it's still unclear who they will play. The Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks are still jockeying for the fifth seed days before the conclusion of the season April 17.
That first-round matchup is certainly a big deal, but the implications for the subsequent rounds make the seeding especially important. By nailing down the No. 3 seed, the Pacers can avoid playing the Miami Heat until the conference finals.
However, the Pacers will need to find their footing on defense to even get to that point. As much as some players on Indiana have improved offensively this season, it's still a team that struggles to put up big point totals. Winning requires great defense for Indiana, but offenses with great playmakers have found ways to score in the past week.
In the postseason, practically every team Indiana will face features a scorer of this caliber. Finding ways to limit those players will really be the Pacers' only chance of winning.
Entering Saturday's action, Brooklyn is 47-32 this season. Two games back, the Nets will need some good fortune to pass Indiana.
The Pacers finish the season by playing the Knicks on the road Sunday before back-to-back games against the Celtics and 76ers next week. Brooklyn finishes with a road game in Toronto before home games against the Wizards and Pistons.
The Nets hold the tiebreaker after winning the season series, so the Pacers will drop to the No. 4 seed even in the event of a tie. Indiana can clinch the third seed with two more wins. Stopping Carmelo Anthony over the weekend would be a great start.