NBA playoff chatter has mostly ignored the Indiana Pacers, who can make a statement Sunday afternoon in a rare high-profile TV spot on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers (ABC, 3:35 p.m. ET)
It’s no secret that “the big four” in Eastern Conference futures markets are Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Boston. Pundits and bettors have been assuming for weeks that the Indiana would fall off the pace to finish in the bottom half of the Eastern brackets before flaming out in the first round. The loss of leading scorer Victor Oladipo in late January supposedly signaled the end of Pacer possibilities.
Six weeks later, Indiana still matters! The Pacers are currently neck-and-neck with Philadelphia for the #3 seed in the East. Boston’s within arm’s reach. But the Sixers are having trouble staying healthy, while the Celtics are having trouble not strangling each other.
Should investors start paying more attention to Indiana as a team worth betting for value down the stretch and in the postseason? Can the Pacers reach the second round to spoil “the big four’s” planned playoff party?
- Indiana is second in the NBA in “defensive efficiency,” which is points allowed adjusted for pace. It would be stretch to think that the classic theme of “defense wins championships” might launch the Pacers to a shocking conference crown. There’s not enough overall talent to sweep three series in a row. But, the team may be well-suited to at least stay competitive game-by-game in playoff-style basketball.
- Indiana plays at one of the lowest paces in the NBA. Playoff basketball often “slows down” because each possession matters so much. That means opponents who prefer a quicker pace will be forced to gear down into Indiana’s preferred style of grinders.
- Indiana has a real shot to earn a #3 seed…which would get them a relative weakling in a first round 3-6 matchup. And, even if the Pacers fall to a #4 or #5 seed…that would match them up against Philadelphia or Boston teams that haven’t been hitting on all cylinders.
Handicappers will be smart to evaluate Indiana’s skill sets and playoff potential in these upcoming litmus tests: today at Philadelphia, Thursday vs. Oklahoma City, Saturday at Denver, March 18 at Portland, and March 21 at Golden State. Later games include return bouts against Denver and Oklahoma City, and two meetings with Boston.
(You can scout the Pacers in person yourself this Tuesday at Madison Square Garden when they visit the Knicks.)
If the Pacers can earn a #3 seed surviving its March gauntlet, they will deserve your betting consideration in the playoffs. But, if weaknesses are exposed Sunday in Philadelphia, and later this week vs. the Thunder and Nuggets…it will likely be smart to fade the Pacers against motivated quality opposition the rest of the way.
Be sure you monitor betting activity (oddsmaker openers and sharp line moves) this week to get a read on how “the market” believes Indiana rates compared to playoff caliber opposition.