They say they’re still in this, that they’ve got a shot.
The Eastern Conference standings back that up. Six teams vying for the last three playoff spots are separated by four games.
But the Indiana Pacers (30-40) haven’t looked like a playoff team lately. And now they’ve got to hit the road for four of five games.
Another six-game losing streak, their fourth this season, suggests the postseason is slipping away as they visit the Washington Wizards (40-31) Wednesday night. The Pacers haven’t been able to defend and they’re getting lit up from the 3-point line unlike a team ranked third in fewest points allowed.
Indiana can’t score enough to win when opponents hit the century mark. A 110-100 loss to the Houston Rockets Monday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse dropped the Pacers to 6-22 when allowing 100 or more points.
Another telling statistic also reaffirms the Pacers are only in contention because, as critics have contended for a while now, the Eastern Conference is much weaker than the Western Conference. The Pacers dropped to 8-19 against Western teams, and they still have games remaining against the Dallas Mavericks (44-27), Oklahoma City Thunder (40-30) and Memphis Grizzlies (50-21).
And based on what two-time All-Star Paul George said earlier Monday, there’s no telling when or if he’ll make it back to help the cause. He keeps saying he’s hopeful. But he’s not ready yet. If he does play, he’ll come off the bench, so it would be unrealistic to expect him to be a lifesaver.
Factor in that reserve guard Rodney Stuckey is nursing a sore calf and the Pacers’ bench isn’t as formidable as it has been. The Pacers are 4-16 when their bench is outscored.
Put it all together and the Pacers, for all they’ve been able to overcome with a combined 199 games lost to injuries, finally appear to be at their breaking point. They’ve shown a tremendous amount of resolve and tried to salvage this season when many considered it lost from the get-go.
But they still have a lot to prove with a dozen games remaining.
If there’s any reason for optimism, however unrealistic that sounds, it’s the fact that the Pacers have five games remaining against teams in this crowded playoff chase as well as road trips against the lowly New York Knicks (14-57) and Detroit Pistons (26-44).
Sticking with the “ifs,” if they could win five of those seven games, they might have a shot. But that’s only if they somehow can win two or three of the other five, which is expecting a lot.
Just splitting the last dozen probably won’t be enough. Never say never, because the Milwaukee Bucks (34-36) have also lost six in a row and are fading fast, too. But other teams need to cooperate and lose.
When so many teams are in the mix, logic suggests the only way to push past enough of them is to win a majority of those 12 games. Expecting that, after another losing skid, again, seems like a reach.
Fans who said earlier in the season that this team should tank games to get a high draft pick are repeating that now. The Pacers refused to accept that as an option.
But as this regular season nears its end, Indiana might end up being on the outside looking in anyway. It’s unfortunate, considering how hard they’ve fought, but few will remember that when all is said and done.
The reality of Pacers’ late-season situation is becoming quite clear. Sometimes, regardless of determination, the end result just isn’t good enough.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.