As it turned out, the Pacers didn’t even need to beat the Pistons to lock up the third seed, courtesy of New York’s win over Atlanta.
So coach Vogel sat out Granger, Hibbert and Hill, but kept David West, who didn’t want to lose his beast mode heading into the playoffs. Replacing the other starters were AJ Price, Dahntay and Jeff Pendergraph — showing that Vogel wanted to keep his bench squad intact and sharp.
It wasn’t an easy game but the Pacers pulled it out, 103-97. Paul George showed that he can be the type of player that is capable of carrying a team in the future on the offensive end, scoring 27 points, grabbing 10 boards, dishing 4 assists and getting 3 steals with just 1 turnover in 34 minutes. He scored 12 points in the fourth and hit 13-15 free throws overall, including 4 straight down the stretch the seal it.
The Pacers are now 42-23 (translates to around 53 games in an 82-game season) with one more home game to go against the Bulls. Granger will sit again but apparently Hibbert and Hill will be back. No idea how many regular Bulls players will sit out but the outcome will not affect the Pacers and will be unlikely to affect the Bulls. Still, I’d like the Pacers to head into the playoffs with some momentum.
Orlando just needs one more win or New York just needs one more loss for the Pacers to lock up the Dwight Howard-less Magic in the first around. I expect the Pacers to win it in 5 or 6. If New York can tire out the Heat a bit and the Heat continue to get banged up (or even lost a couple of key guys) then I might be able to see a couple of scenarios where the Pacers could cause an unlikely upset. Even if they lose, I’d like to see the Pacers win at least a couple.