The Indiana Pacers could have used some help from the Washington Wizards for their effort to snag the No. 8 seed for the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. Instead, the Wizards wrapped up their regular season with two consecutive wins. That kept Russell Westbrook and company in the eighth spot while relegating Indiana to the ninth position.
That means Washington is going up against the Boston Celtics in the No. 7 vs. No. 8 showdown, with the winner of Tuesday’s contest heading straight into the traditional eight-team East playoff bracket. Even the Wizards-Celtics loser will still be in decent shape, as those two clubs require just one victory in two chances. The loser will meet the winner of the No. 9 vs. No. 10 matchup, which pits the Pacers against the Charlotte Hornets. Both Indiana and Charlotte must win twice—first in their head-to-head battle on Tuesday and then over the 7-8 loser.
It isn’t ideal, but hey…it’s better than not making the postseason at all.
And it could be worse. It’s not like an opening date with the Hornets is anything to fret. Charlotte ended its 2020-21 regular season on a dreadful five-game losing streak. Head coach James Borrego’s club is coming off consecutive setbacks against the New Orleans Pelicans, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, and Wizards. The Hornets received a boost when star rookie and No. 3 overall pick LaMelo Ball returned earlier than expected from a fractured wrist, but they haven’t been able to gel since reinserting him into the lineup on May 1. A lot of that has to do with the fact that they are still undermanned. Gordon Hayward has been sidelined since early April because of a foot injury, and although he is nearing a return he will not be back for Tuesday’s game. Cody Martin is also out because of an ankle injury. Martin is a role player, but the Hornets really could have used him at small forward against Indiana since Hayward remains unavailable.
It’s actually not great news that the Pacers get to host this opening play-in game, because they were actually way worse at Bankers Life Fieldhouse throughout the season (13-23) than they were on the road (21-15). The good news is that Charlotte has been bad on the road (15-21, compared to 18-18 at home).
As for the Pacers, they are playing decent basketball at the moment and are fast becoming an NBA best bet — having won three of their last five games and four of their last seven. This stretch includes victories over East playoff teams in the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks in addition to competitive losses against the Wizards, Milwaukee Bucks, and Los Angeles Lakers. The biggest factor for Indiana heading into the play-in round is the status of point guard Malcolm Brogdon and center Domantas Sabonis. Both players are questionable—Brogdon because of a hamstring problem and Sabonis due to a quadriceps issue. Brogdon has not played since April 29.
If the Pacers are healthy, they are a solid NBA pick to beat a struggling Charlotte team.
Head coach Nate Bjorkgren’s crew would actually have a real chance to take care of the Hornets even without Brogdon and Sabonis, but they would almost certainly need that duo against either
Boston or Washington. Although the Celtics are without Jaylen Brown, they still have plenty of talent—mainly in the form of Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, and Marcus Smart. As for the Wizards, nobody wants to mess with a team that boasts Westbrook and Bradley Beal in the playoffs. Westbrook just broke the all-time triple-double record and Beal finished second to Stephen Curry in the 2020-21 scoring race.
You certainly won’t find the Pacers anywhere near the top of the NBA Championship odds, but they at least have a realistic shot at advancing out of the play-in festivities…if they have the services of Brogdon and Sabonis.
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