NBA

NBA PM: Can Indiana Still Sneak Into Playoffs?

Indiana won nine of 10 games, then proceeded to lose six straight. Can they sneak into the postseason?

Alex Kennedy profile picture
Updated 1 year ago on

7 min read

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Can Indiana Still Sneak Into Playoffs?

Two weeks ago, the Indiana Pacers were one of the hottest teams in the NBA. They had the NBA’s best record since the All-Star break after winning nine of 10 games, including victories over talented teams like the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls among others.

For much of the season, Frank Vogel had been telling his team that they simply needed to stay within reach of the playoffs. Even when they were dealing with injuries to important players or sitting 15 games below .500, Vogel just wanted the team to stay close enough in the standings so that they could make a late-season run when they were jelling and playing at full strength.

The thought was that if they could sneak into the playoffs, they could possibly make some noise since they’re better than their record indicates.

This was a big reason why the team didn’t blow up their roster with trades before the deadline, even though Roy Hibbert and David West can opt out and become unrestricted free agents over the summer. Plenty of teams were calling Indiana’s front office, but they wanted to keep their core intact.

It seemed that Vogel’s message and the front office’s decision to stand pat was paying off. Indiana had climbed into the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference after winning nine of 10 and it seemed like they were clicking at the perfect time. In fact, the Pacers were playing so well that Paul George was unsure about returning to the lineup because he didn’t want to disrupt the team’s chemistry and momentum.

Then, suddenly, the Pacers looked like a different team. Just as quickly as they had turned things around, they reverted to the inconsistent, struggling team that they’ve been for much of the season.

Indiana lost six straight games, including important contests against the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets (since all three teams are separated by a half game or less in the fight for the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed). Their defense, which had been very impressive since the All-Star break, was shockingly bad. They allowed 117 points to the Toronto Raptors and, embarrassingly, 123 points to the Nets.

The Pacers bounced back on Wednesday night, snapping their losing streak with a victory over the Washington Wizards, but the team’s poor stretch caused them to fall down the standings. They are currently 31-40, which is tied with the Celtics – although Boston is in the eighth seed because they own the tiebreaker over Indiana.

“Well, it is no fun losing – every game matters right now,” Vogel told reporters. “We are trying to get into the playoffs. We got to a point where we were seventh at one point, and we had a six-game losing streak. That is tough to survive, so we are in survival mode right now and every game matters.”

The win over Washington was big for Indiana. The Pacers actually trailed by 10 points in the fourth quarter before coming back to win. It was the first time since April of 2013 that the Pacers came back from a double-digit deficit in the final period to get a win, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Prior to that, Indiana had lost 51 straight games in which they trailed by at least 10 points in the fourth, which was the third-longest streak of its kind in the NBA.

“We were just trying to get off a losing streak,” David West told reporters after the win over Washington. “We wanted to have something to feel good about, so we just put everything down. Coach said he was going to try some different lineups, and we just had to do what we had to do to win.”

Even though the Pacers dropped those six consecutive games, Vogel still believes his team has what it takes to make the playoffs.

“This group is playing at a pretty high level,” Vogel told reporters. “We had settled into a pretty good rotation, and then we just hit a little bit of a lull. I believe in what this group can accomplish. But this latest setback, the six-game losing streak, was just a little bit of a microcosm of what we had earlier in the season. We got to hang around, weather the storm, hang around and make a late push.”

George Hill has been playing very well for the Pacers lately, averaging 18.8 points, 5.1 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals in March while shooting 50.5 percent from the field.

“I’m just trying to be aggressive,” Hill told reporters. “I spent the whole summer working on my game to come back a better player and come back as a focal point to this offense. I’ve been given a chance and my team trusts me and believes in me to make plays. That’s all I’ve been trying to do. It really is. If it’s scoring 10 points or scoring no points, just try to read it and win the game.”

Of Indiana’s 11 remaining games, five will be at home and six will be on the road. Seven of those 11 final opponents are currently in the playoff picture.

The Pacers’ most important remaining games are the ones against the Celtics, Nets, Charlotte Hornets and Miami HEAT, since those are the teams fighting for the final playoff spots in the East. However, the team is entering each and every game with a must-win mentality.

“We’ve got to get wins down the stretch,” West told reporters. “This last stretch of the season, every game is the most important game on the schedule.”

Jazz Sign Cooley to Multi-Year Deal

The Utah Jazz announced today that team has signed forward Jack Cooley to a multi-year contract.

Cooley signed his most recent 10-day contract with the Jazz on March 16 and has appeared in six Jazz games, averaging 1.7 points in 4.3 minutes per contest.

When the Jazz signed him from the NBA Development League’s Idaho Stampede, the former Notre Dame star was averaging 16.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.3 blocks in 30.8 minutes through 20 games. On March 13, Cooley set a new D-League single-game record by grabbing 29 rebounds vs. the Los Angeles D-Fenders, adding 27 points while going 11-of-14 from the floor (78.6 percent).

Over his final three games, Cooley averaged 22.7 points on 65.9 percent shooting (27-41) and 22.7 rebounds per game with the Stampede.  He recorded 13 double-doubles, including four straight since returning to the D-League.  He scored in double figures on 17 occasions and recorded 20-plus points in six games.

Cooley attended 2014 training camp with the Jazz, averaging 3.5 points and 3.0 rebounds in 5.8 minutes in two preseason games before being waived on Oct. 22.

The terms of Cooley’s multi-year agreement with the Jazz were not disclosed.

Sweet Sixteen Previews

Throughout the 2015 NCAA Tournament, Basketball Insiders’ college experts have been previewing every game and predicting the winner. Our latest previews are up, breaking down each game in the Sweet Sixteen.

Find out the keys for each team to win and see who our experts believe will advance to the Elite Eight. We’ve predicted a number of shocking upsets (with one of our experts predicting that Kentucky, Duke and Wisconsin will all go down this round!).

This year, Basketball Insiders brought in some highly respected trainers to contribute to our March Madness coverage. Our NCAA Senior Writer Yannis Koutroupis continues to lead the team, and he’s joined by top basketball trainers Dan Barto and Cody Toppert, who train top professional and college basketball players every year.

Barto has been with the IMG Academy basketball program since 2003. Prior to becoming the Head Skills Trainer, Barto was the IMG Academy basketball program’s Developmental Head Coach. Dan has trained over 100 current or former NBA players and coached over 40 Division I players.

Toppert is a former standout player at Cornell University (one of the top three-point shooters in Ivy League history), who played eight years professionally (NBA D-League, Spain, Italy, Germany) and now serves as the Director of Basketball Development at ELEV|8 Sports Institute (Ganon Baker Basketball Academy). He trains professional players (five 2015 NBA Draftees) and coaches prep schoolers for Ganon Baker’s nationally ranked prep school program.

Be sure to check out our in-depth game previews here so that you know what to expect going into the Sweet Sixteen.

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Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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