With playoff berth secured, Pacers now vying for position
After securing a playoff berth in impressive fashion, the Indiana Pacers have a shot to avoid nemesis LeBron James and Eastern Conference-best Cleveland in the first round.
With his club fighting to move up in the standings, coach Frank Vogel isn’t expected to rest his starters Tuesday night when Indiana seeks its seventh straight win over a visiting New York Knicks team closing out another lost season.
Though they’ve struggled to be consistent for much of the season, the Pacers have come together with four victories in five games this month. They could have wrapped up a postseason spot Friday, but a 111-98 loss at Toronto ended a three-game winning streak.
Indiana bounced back with urgency Sunday, leading by as many as 42 and cruising to a 129-105 home win over Brooklyn to clinch its fifth playoff berth in six seasons.
"All year we felt we had a team that could do damage in the playoffs," Vogel said. "(It) was about getting it done to get there. I think our guys were motivated after the Toronto game."
Myles Turner had 28 points and 10 rebounds, George Hill finished with 18 points and Paul George scored 15 in just 22 minutes. Turner, who was sent to the bench when Indiana lost five of eight in March, had averaged 5.6 points over his prior eight games.
"I want to start. You have to put your pride aside do your job," Turner said. "I’m completely fine with the role I am in right now. I am looking forward to the playoffs."
It’s still uncertain who the Pacers (43-37) will get in the opening round. They’re tied with Detroit for seventh place with a date at Milwaukee remaining Wednesday. The Pistons play Miami at home Tuesday before visiting Cleveland in their finale.
Indiana holds the tiebreaker over Detroit and would likely avoid the Cavs by finishing seventh. James-led clubs have eliminated the Pacers in their last three postseasons, and Indiana’s only win in this season’s series came with James sidelined.
Vogel told the team’s official website he did not plan to rest anyone against the Knicks (32-49), whose season finale will come without Jose Calderon, Kristaps Porzingis and Lance Thomas because of injuries.
The Pacers, who have won seven straight at home versus New York, can extend their longest win streak in the 40-year series with only their third season sweep.
Both meetings, however, have gone down to the wire. George scored 15 of his 27 in the fourth quarter of a 108-105 home win Feb. 24 before Indiana nearly coughed up an 18-point second-half advantage in a 92-87 victory at Madison Square Garden on April 3.
Carmelo Anthony struggled with 14 points on 5-of-20 shooting in February – the only time he’s been able to play in the past five meetings. The All-Star forward scored 21 on Sunday in the club’s sixth loss in eight games, 93-89 to the visiting Raptors.
Rookie Jerian Grant has been a bright spot, averaging 16.3 points in his last three games, and his play along with that of Porzingis has given Knicks fans the belief that better days are ahead. Porzingis, last year’s No. 4 overall draft pick, showed great potential while averaging 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in 72 games.
The overall result for New York was far better than its 17-65 record in 2014-15, but Derek Fisher was still fired as coach in early February and replaced by Kurt Rambis.
"My mindset is just figuring out how we’re going to better this situation, how we’re going to continue to grow as a team, grow as an organization, and not get used to going home this early in April," Anthony said.