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Indiana Pacers chasing the playoffs and watching the standings as March arrives

The Pacers are currently in eighth place but want to reach at least sixth

INDIANAPOLIS — 39 days remain in the ongoing NBA season, and there are several playoff seeding races heating up. With the final full month of the campaign underway, the Indiana Pacers find themselves locked into one.

With March 6 results wrapped up in the association, the fourth through eighth seeds in the Eastern Conference are separated by slim margins. Currently, the Pacers are in the eighth spot with a 35-28 record. Orlando, who Indiana battles on Sunday, occupies the fourth seed with a 37-26 win-loss standing. Two games are all that differentiates a squad that will have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and a group that will be on the road for the first round of the Play-In Tournament.

"Having something to play for obviously gives you new life," Pacers center Myles Turner said last month. He believes that his team is locked in for the final stretch of the season — the blue and gold are 4-3 since the All-Star break.

Sandwiched in between the Magic and Pacers are three other groups that are all at different spots in their season. Currently seventh are the Philadelphia 76ers, who have lost two straight games to poor competition. Injuries have derailed their season, and Joel Embiid is still sidelined for the 35-27 ball club. They are 0.5 games ahead of the Pacers, and Indiana owns the tiebreaker over the Sixers.

In sixth is the Miami Heat, winners of eight of their last 10 games. They are clicking at a good time and have an easy schedule the rest of the way. Health permitting, the reigning Eastern Conference champions are positioned well to earn a top-six seed — they are 35-26 and have been rock-solid in tight games. The Pacers and Heat will decide their head-to-head tiebreaker on April 7, though at that point it might not be relevant.

The New York Knicks currently sit in fifth place, though they are in a similar position to the 76ers. After a 14-2 January, injuries caught up to the Knicks, and they are 5-9 since. OG Anunoby, Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson, and Mitchell Robinson are all currently banged up, and New York has fallen to 36-26. Indiana has clinched the head-to-head tiebreaker over New York.

"We have our eyes set on the playoffs, so we can't afford any slippage," Turner said.

The Magic presently top the East's mid-tier. They have won five-straight games against a soft schedule, but they deserve credit for taking care of business. Orlando is the only team in this race that has the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Pacers.

A decent gap sits between the Magic and the third-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Pacers hold a big lead over the ninth-seeded Chicago Bulls. With about 20 games left per team this season, it appears that Orlando, Miami, Indiana, New York, and Philadelphia will finish fourth through eighth in some order.

The specifics will be everything. Seeds four, five, and six are guaranteed a playoff spot — and almost certainly will have a date with a non-Boston Celtics team in the first round. The seven and eight seeds come with a Play-In Tournament berth. It's the top half of that tournament's bracket, so the teams who finish in those positions will have two chances to win once and make the postseason. But it's riskier, and much tougher making the playoffs outright.

"We're all locked in, we're all trying to make the playoffs," Pacers center Jalen Smith said late last month.

Turner shared the same thinking. "We have our eyes set on the playoffs, so we can't afford any slippage," he said.

Indiana's uneven results certainly contain slippage. As of today, there are five NBA teams that have a winning percentage below 30% this season. The Pacers have six losses to those squads, more than any other team in the league. It's easy to point to those defeats as the difference between where the Pacers are and where they want to be.

On the other hand, Indiana's best wins are terrific. Entering today, they are the only team with multiple wins over Boston this season. They have four wins against the Milwaukee Bucks and two against Cleveland. They've taken down the Heat, Knicks, 76ers, New Orleans Pelicans, and Phoenix Suns. If every team put together an NCAA-style resume, Indiana's would be strong.

But that's not how the NBA works. The Pacers need to win, and often, if they want to crack the top-six in the East. All of their games are meaningful going forward, which is fun for players — but it adds pressure. "It feels great, honestly. Just contributing towards something bigger than myself," Turner said of playing in consequential games down the stretch. The Pacers haven't reached the postseason since 2020. "I think the biggest goal for all of us in here is to get to the playoffs and be effective and make a run in the playoffs."

Not only will the Pacers try to win every game down the stretch, but they'll hope to see losses for the teams around them in the standings. They only have two more games against other squads in the four through eight grouping.

Turner said Indiana's focus has to be on themselves and not on other team's results. There's still over a month left in the season, but it's natural for the Pacers to want to check the league's scoreboard every night.

"I try not to do that, get into that. It's the league, you never know what's going to happen," Turner said. He added that he starts to peek at the standings and results more often later in the season.

There's still a lot of time left in the 2023-24 campaign. Significant injuries and important winning streaks can shake things up. As it stands, the final five weeks of the season are setting up to have an epic race for playoff seeding in the Eastern Conference. The Pacers will hope to come out on the other side with a postseason spot.

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