The injury-plagued Indiana Pacers failed in their bid to move up the Eastern Conference standings on Saturday. Now they’ll settle for simply holding their ground.
The Pacers face a must-win on Sunday afternoon on the road against the Toronto Raptors in Tampa, Fla., in order to finish ninth in the East and earn a home game in the NBA’s new play-in tournament that tips off Tuesday.
The Pacers, Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards will all take the court for 1 p.m. Eastern starts in a tie for the eighth-best record in the East (33-38), the result of the Pacers and Hornets both losing games on Saturday.
Indiana fell victim to LeBron James’ return, falling 122-115 to the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday afternoon when a win would have vaulted the Pacers into eighth place in the East.
The Pacers can no longer finish eighth. That’s because the Hornets and Wizards play each other on Sunday, with the winner earning the spot ahead of Indiana even should the Pacers create a tie due to having won the season series.
The fact that either the Hornets or Wizards will lose on Sunday assures Indiana will claim the ninth spot with a win over Toronto. In that case, the Pacers would host the Hornets-Wizards loser in a play-in elimination game on Tuesday.
Because it lost the season series to both of its rivals, Indiana would play that 9-10 game on the road should it lose Sunday.
Indiana has lost two in a row and six of 10 as it tries to get healthy for the postseason. Myles Turner has missed the last 15 games with a toe injury and remains out indefinitely. Malcolm Brogdon has been out the last nine games with a strained hamstring but might return Sunday. Domantas Sabonis rested a strained left quad on Saturday and remains uncertain for the finale.
Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren admitted Saturday he has to take the Indiana injury situation one game at a time.
“I haven’t had 100 percent confirmation from any of them that they’d be back (Sunday) for the last regular-season game and then even going forward,” he insisted.
The Pacers and Raptors split a back-to-back set in Indianapolis on Jan. 24-25, with the Raptors riding 30 points from Indiana University standout OG Anunoby to a 107-102 triumph before the Pacers bounced back the next day to win 129-114 behind Brogdon’s 36 points.
The Raptors, who won the 2019 NBA title and lost a seven-game series to Boston in the Eastern semifinals last year, were in the mix for a postseason berth this season until going 1-9 since April 27.
One of the club’s biggest issues has been winning at “home” in Tampa, which is about 85 miles from where they advanced in the bubble last year, but is more than 1,300 miles from where they raised their championship banner at the start of last season.
The Raptors have gone just 11-25 in Tampa this season, the 11 wins being the sixth-fewest in the league.
They’ve dropped four straight in Tampa and will be hosting Indiana for the first time.
Since the team’s formal elimination from the playoff race, Raptors coach Nick Nurse has taken the opportunity to find more playing time for guys like rookie Jalen Harris, who poured in a season-best 31 points in Friday’s loss at Dallas.
“I think it’s valuable for us to get these guys some early development and learn more about them,” Nurse explained. “It’s given us a golden opportunity for that, and for the most part they keep playing and bouncing back and showing some real ability there, so it’s obviously good to see.”
–Field Level Media