Pacers clinging to playoff hopes

Only the Indiana Pacers can beat the Indiana Pacers.

By that I mean the playoff hopes for Indiana are alive and well, but not necessarily at full health.

It helps that superstar Paul George is playing like a superstar when his team needs him most. It also helps that George is getting much-needed support from his teammates. The recent acquisition of Lance Stephenson doesn’t hurt, either.

This Pacers team, booming with potential on paper but too often this season hiding it on the court, is holding tight onto the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot with three games remaining.

“Too often this season” could apply to a number of scenarios for Indiana. Perhaps most important, the Pacers too often let their competition steal a win in head-to-head matchups.

At this point in the season, those losses are affecting the health of Indiana’s playoff hopes. See where this is headed?

Over the course of their roller-coaster 2016-17 campaign, the Pacers too often let the likes of Chicago, Milwaukee, Atlanta and Miami gain an advantage in head-to-head matchups – the first tiebreaker when playoff seeding is being determined around this time each season.

To be more clear, Indiana is either even or at a disadvantage with all of the aforementioned opponents. Milwaukee won three of four against the Pacers, Miami stole two out of three and Chicago took two of four. One game – one very crucial matchup – remains between Atlanta and Indiana.

Had the Pacers managed better outcomes against these four foes throughout this season, they could be competing for the fifth spot in the East right now, instead of the eighth, and final, seed in the playoffs.

Remember, the roster is gleaming with potential.

Following two impressive home wins this week over Toronto and Milwaukee, the Pacers must handle their business in the three games remaining between now and Wednesday.

All three are winnable: on the road against Orlando and Philadelphia and that oh-so-critical final game of the season at home versus Atlanta.

Indiana currently trails the Hawks by 1.5 games for the fifth playoff seed. It trails Milwaukee by one game for the sixth spot and holds the same record (39-40) as Chicago. Miami still has eyes on the playoffs, as well, sitting a half-game back from the Pacers.

Tiebreakers are not in Indiana’s favor, but momentum is.

And only the Pacers can beat the Pacers.

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