The Indiana Pacers are coming off a huge loss against the Miami Heat on Friday night. However, they won’t have any time to stop and lick their wounds if they are hoping to stay in the hunt for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. On Sunday they’ll tip off against the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that is also trying to make their own statement in the West. And with the NBA season just one week from being completed, every game is growing with increasing importance.
The ship for the Pacers has done everything but completely capsized at this point. The team that led the Eastern Conference throughout the majority of the year is 3-7 in their last 10 games and issues in the locker room are constantly making headlines in every major sports news outlet across the country. This is the last thing that this team was hoping for, especially just one week out from beginning the playoffs. The way things are lining up now, the Pacers could be looking at facing the Charlotte Bobcats in the first round. And while the Pacers won the season series against the Bobcats, 2-1, the last game was a 109-87 blowout where Al Jefferson went off for 34 points and had 8 rebounds. With the way Roy Hibbert played on Friday against the Heat –scoring just five points and only grabbing only one rebound- it may be a major concern to play against a quality big man like that of Jefferson.
The Thunder had a chance of trying to catch the Spurs for that top spot in the West, but San Antonio’s recent streaks put that out of reach in the last week. The Thunder are going to end up with the two-seed in the West, which means they could play any variety of teams. However, the good news for Thunder fans is that the team is 7-3 in their last 10 and Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and company seem to be firing on all cylinders with the playoffs on the horizon.
This will just be the second meeting between these two teams this season. The Thunder had an impressive 118-94 win back in early December. That loss happened to be just the third on the season for the Pacers, and my how things have changed as of late.
Handicappers on Sportspicks.com are keeping in mind that it might not be the worst thing if the Thunder were to lose this matchup. Nothing is going to budge the Thunder from that two-spot in the West, but giving the Pacers a bit of life at this point in the season could be quite beneficial. All the talk in the East is about who will get home court advantage throughout playoffs, considering how important game-sevens have proven to be in the past. If the Thunder were to lose on Sunday, the Pacers would keep pace with the Heat, which could have lasting effects come later rounds in the playoffs –assuming the Pacers make it that far. The Pacers would also be able to look at a quality win late in the season, something that has eluded them in the last few weeks.
That said, the Thunder may not be willing to take anytime off right now. They want to keep things rolling as they have been, in order to avoid the same type of downturn that they’ve seen the Pacers have to endure in the last two months.