The Indiana Pacers had just about everything go wrong for them on the final day of the regular season as they dropped into a tie with the Washington Wizards for the 7th-worst record in the NBA.
The Wizards not only lost to bring themselves down with the Pacers but lost to the Houston Rockets, who Indiana will now have to hope win a coin flip against the San Antonio Spurs for the 2nd-worst record because that would send the Rockets 2nd-round pick (32nd overall) to the Pacers. If they lose the coin flip, it goes to the Celtics at 33rd overall.
The Orlando Magic, who entered the day tied with Indiana, were going back and forth throughout their entire game against the Miami Heat in Udonis Haslem’s final regular season game of his career. But in the fourth, they quickly lost a small lead and it ballooned into a double-digit deficit.
Oh and the Pacers beat the New York Knicks after being down 16 points midway through the third quarter by a final of 141-135. Yes, that’s correct. Everything went wrong for the Pacers on a day where they made a big second-half comeback and won a game in the sport they are paid to play while the other teams close to them in the standings all lost. Makes sense.
The Pacers won a game that most fans watching at home likely wanted them to lose while so many fun things were happening that those same fans were unable to fully embrace and enjoy.
George Hill showing up in vintage form and scoring 17 points on 5 of 6 from deep in perhaps his final game in a Pacers uniform and hitting a buzzer beating half-court shot to end the first quarter? Sorry, seeing a franchise legend possibly go out on a high note with a +29 performance in 22 minutes is actually not a good thing for the team you love to root for.
Bennedict Mathurin scoring 26 points on only 13 shot attempts to go with a career-high six assists as he got to the free-throw line like a future star (12 of 13)? Nah, you were hoping to see him be a little more inefficient in his last game.
Andrew Nembhard going for a smooth 19 and 9 while continuing to look very good running the show as the point guard with Tyrese Haliburton out. Why can’t he just have an off game to finish out the year?
Buddy Hield hitting a logo triple in the fourth and going 5 for 6 from deep? Young prospects in Aaron Nesmith and Jordan Nwora combining to go 12 for 17 from the field? Please, no. Save it for next year!
You really didn’t want to see the Pacers make 19 of their 34 3-point attempts (55.9%) or get to the free-throw line 16 more times than the Knicks on their home court.
Such is the state of the late NBA season where for many teams losing is winning. The Blazers tanked their hearts out and sat 5-10 players every game for the last few weeks as they filled their roster with G-League players on hardship exemptions and players than sound more like randomly generated draft prospects from 2k. Now they sit in the fifth lottery slot with a much higher chance to land a generational prospect than any of the teams behind them that didn’t try as hard to lose. Suckers.
The Mavericks said the quiet part out loud, essentially admitting that they weren’t trying to win when Jason Kidd said they decided to “go in another direction” with a chance to still make the play-in tournament available to them and now they’re being investigated by the league. But tanking isn’t going anywhere, it makes too much sense in the long term.
I don’t have any solutions to this but it sucks to not be able enjoy a team winning a basketball game to end the season because it hurts their lottery odds and moves them down a slot in the draft. Maybe that’s more of a problem for me than others but it feels like there has to be a better way. Can we stop the count once a team is eliminated from postseason play? First team eliminated is at the first spot, etc.? Incentivize winning games after you’ve already been eliminated by offering extra lottery chances for each win?
Maybe those are bad ideas that lead to far more tanking to start the year in a race to be eliminated. I don’t know but just give me some way to watch the end of a down year for the Pacers without the smartest thing for them to do being to sit all of their best players and to lose all of their games.
I certainly would have preferred to watch Tyrese Haliburton play basketball the last couple weeks than spend multiple games hoping TJ McConnell doesn’t play in clutch time because he’s been playing too well. But that’s what the NBA is for the teams at the bottom in March and April.
In the end, the Pacers still have a chance to move up in the draft and it’s the second best chance they’ve had to do that in over three decades. Perhaps their wins over the last week against the Thunder and Knicks will be karmically rewarded by the basketball gods. If they aren’t, this is a loaded draft class with lots of intriguing talent in the lottery and at the forward spot the Pacers so desperately need to fill. The Pacers have three picks in the first-round and two in the second. It’s an immensely important draft night for the franchise.
Whatever happens with the lottery, this wasn’t a fun way to get there. Here’s to hoping the Pacers don’t need to be in these situations for many seasons beyond this one.