Tonight’s Nets vs. Pacers game is pivotal for Eastern Conference playoff positioning. With a magic number of two, the Nets are looking to lock up the fourth seed while also simultaneously chase down the Pacers in a last grasp chance at the three seed. A heads up win tonight will help both of those causes. Here to help us preview the matchup is Jared Wade of the ESPN Truehoop Network Pacers blog, 8 points, 9 Seconds.
Justin DeFeo: What needs to happen for the Pacers in the post season for this year to be dubbed a success?
Jared Wade: Reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. They played the Heat tough in round two last season and showed something the year before in round one against the Bulls (though they lost in five games). This followed a near-decade of nonsense and mediocrity after the brawl in Detroit.
So as long as they make that one additional step in the 2013 playoffs, it will be an excellent year. Or, as much as Pacers’ fans would hate to admit it, even losing a really good series in the second round that goes seven games and stays close would be satisfying. With no Danny Granger, just getting closer towards being relevant in June again is what the franchise needs. Speaking of the playoffs, who would the Nets most like to see in the first round?
DeFeo: Great question, can I choose none of the above? I think of the teams in range for the Nets to play in the first round, the Celtics, Hawks and Bulls all present different problems to the Nets and would all be tough outs. Of those three, the Nets would probably like to see the Bulls and Celtics least, so by process of elimination that leaves the Hawks as the most favorable first round matchup. But I think we can all agree that every team in the East is trying to avoid the Heat in any round like the plague. Early this season the Pacers were being picked as a team that could beat Miami in a series. Do you think thats still possible if they meet?
Wade: I can’t say I ever did. Is it possible? Well, OK. “Possible.” There’s this guy, Roy Sullivan, a park ranger, who got hit by lightning seven times. So hard to rule anything out about this portal of unknowable wonder that is the future. But would I be shocked (not a lightning pun) if Indiana wins? Yeah. Very much so.
The Pacers have probably improved since last season even without Granger, but the Heat have improved more. And the Pacers came up short last season even with Chris Bosh missing the whole series (basically) and Dwayne Wade playing like Alex Rodriguez for most of the series.
About a month ago, the Pacers were undisputedly the team most likely — of the unlikely options in the East — to beat the Heat. Now, that could still be the case, although New York and Brooklyn can reasonably take issue with that idea. But there was never really a time when it has seemed like anyone in this conference can beat Miami. But, who will get there to have that chance? Which of Indiana, Brooklyn and New York is the most likely to make the Eastern Conference Finals?
DeFeo: Well, whoever finishes fourth gets the Heat in the second round and seeing as though the Nets will likely finish there, I’d have to rule them out for an Eastern Conference Finals Bid. I’m with you on the Nets having an equally unlikely chance of knocking Miami off, even if that Roy guy did get struck seven times.
So that leaves the Pacers and Knicks and I’d choose the Knicks, but just slightly. I love the way the Pacers defend and they have the appropriate beef inside to hurt the Knicks and possibly force them out of their small ball ways, but I’ve thought all season long they were the second best team in the East and having the home court in that series could loom large. Enough about the future though, let’s talk tonight. Who will win and why?
Wade: It’s close to a coin flip, so I’ll go with the hometown Pacers. They had an emotional, if shaky, comeback win the other night in Indiana over Cleveland and have had a few days to get their confidence back. There should be a good crowd and a playoff-like atmosphere, so I’ll be expecting some carry over from the other night. As long as they can execute late and keep Deron Williams in check, they should be able to win. Speaking of Deron, is this the best Deron Williams has played since joining the Nets?
DeFeo: Well, he did have a 57 point game last year against the Bobcats, but considering the circumstances, I’d say yes. It’s easy to be hyper-reactive to the moment, but with every game being meaningful since the all-star break the Nets need Williams to be at his best and he’s delivered. The importance of his play has been even more magnified since Joe Johnson’s health has begun to haggle him a bit and Williams has responded every night.