The Indiana Pacers reserves plus a half of Roy Hibbert and George Hill, minus CJ Watson and Ian Mahinmi, were good enough to blow out the Orlando Magic tonight 101-86. Of course, Orlando had reason to tank as they wanted to lock up the 3rd best chance of securing the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft, but it’s always good for the Pacers to finish the regular season on a high note.
Chris Copeland and Rasual Butler, two guys who probably won’t see much time in the playoffs, led the way with 19 points apiece. Lavoy Allen, who probably won’t play at all, had a 12-11 double-double, while Evan Turner only missed one shot en route to a solid 14, 8 and 6 night. Luis Scola chipped in with 10, 8 and 4, and Donald Sloan had 13.
As for the two struggling starters, Roy Hibbert looked a little better but not by much, and George Hill wasn’t as aggressive as he needed to be. Hibbert was 1-7 from the field and finished with 4 points, 7 rebounds and a block in 17 minutes, while Hill had 5 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and zero turnovers in 14 minutes. A step in the right direction, at least, considering how poorly both guys have played as of late.
The Pacers had already locked up the top seed in the East and finish the season 56-26, the most wins since 2003-2004, when they finished with a franchise record 61. They will start the “real” season, the playoffs, on Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks, who have been playing great basketball and will be tough to beat.
That said, we’ve preached since before the regular season began that the Pacers are a team built for the physical, grinding style of the playoffs, so they’ll be hard to beat too, especially with home court advantage at Bankers Life Fieldhouse where they finished a league-best 35-6. There are no back-to-backs, which the Pacers have struggled with all year, so that’s another positive.
In fact, there are plenty of positives. Apart from finishing the season strong with two quality wins and looking closer to the team we knew from earlier in the season, most of the starters have managed to get quite a bit of rest, playing just three games since that April 6 home loss to Atlanta. Hibbert and Hill played a little tonight, but effectively all five starters will have gotten a full 5 days off between games when they step onto the floor Saturday for game one.
Another potential positive played out tonight when the Brooklyn Nets lost their final game in Cleveland while Washington took care of business in Boston. With Chicago also losing in Charlotte, the Eastern Conference playoff picture is set, and it looks beneficial to the Pacers.
1. Indiana Pacers vs 8. Atlanta Hawks
2. Miami Heat vs. 7 Charlotte Bobcats
3. Toronto Raptors vs. 6. Brooklyn Nets
4. Chicago Bulls vs 5. Washington Wizards
The key is how the second round might look for both the Pacers and the Heat. The Bulls will be hard to beat, but without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng I think the Pacers have the weapons to do it over a 7-game series. Washington is also playing well right now but they lack the experience.
More interesting is all the talk of how “smart” the Heat are for “tanking” to get the No. 2 seed so they can avoid a potential second round match-up with the Bulls or the Nets, the latter of whom they were 0-4 against in the regular season. Well guess what now? If the Nets can overcome Toronto, that’s exactly who the Heat will be playing in the second round. So suck on that.