Friday, April 1, 2011

NBA Playoff Picture: Eastern Conference 8th Seed

Brown was fired just 28 games into the season
When it comes to making the playoffs, the NBA is a much more inclusive league than, say, Major League Baseball.  While only eight of 30 baseball teams make the playoffs each year, 16 of 30 in the Association are given the privilege of attempting a run at the championship.  Though the 8th seed has  never won it all (and has only once made it to the Finals--the 99-00 Knicks), the battle for that last playoff spot is often just as fierce as the battle for the top spot. Though the eighth seed is almost guaranteed to lose to the one-seed, a playoff appearance is a big boost for coaches and general managers looking to claim progress for their squad.  This year, the Charlotte Bobcats and Indiana Pacers are in a dog-fight for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.  The Pacers finished nine games out of the playoffs last season, and Bobcats coach Larry Brown (see right) resigned/was fired 28 games into the year, leaving both teams in need of some good news.  As April 2011 beginnings, they're both in the hunt for the playoffs, with only one game separating the two.  Which team will make the playoffs--Pacers or Bobcats?  Hit the jump to find out.

On the morning of April Fool's Day, the Pacers (34-42) stand one game ahead of the Bobcats (32-42), but both teams are tied in the loss column.  This means that if the Bobcats win both games they have yet to play, they'd be tied with the Pacers, and each team would have six games remaining.  Of their remaining games, the Bobcats have four against winning teams and four against losing teams, and each set of four is split into two home and two road games.  The Pacers have three against winning teams left (one home, 2 away) and three against losing teams (all three at home).  Since the Pacers have fewer games to play, they avoid having any back-to-back games; the Bobcats, on the other hand, have two sets of back-to-backs, making their journey more difficult from the outset.  In addition, the Pacers have won all four games against the Bobcats this season, giving them the tiebreaker.  If both teams end up with the same 82-game record, the Pacers make it.  In the last 10 games, both teams are 6-4, but the Bobcats are on a six-game winning streak.  They beat the Celtics as part of their steak, but the Pacers also beat the Celtics two night ago.  These teams seem somewhat evenly matched, given their similar records and strong play of late.

Psycho T is helping the Pacers 
in their hunt for the 8th seed
Adding to Charlotte's woes, though, is the strong play of the Pacers frontcourt of late.  Starting power forward Tyler Hansbrough (see right) has averaged 10.9 points and 5.2 rebounds this season; in the last two weeks, though, his averages are up to 13.8 and 6.6, respectively.  Similarly, Josh McRoberts has stepped up his game in the past couple weeks for Indiana, scoring 14 in a win over the Nets, as well as a 15-point, 13-rebound performance in a win over the Pistons.  This increased output up front will help the Pacers match up nicely with the Bucks, Hawks and Magic, upcoming opponents all with strong frontcourts.  By contrast, the Bobcats have three games left against those teams (two vs. Orlando, one vs. Atlanta) but are without Tyrus Thomas, their leading shot-blocker and second-leading rebounder.  This differing frontline play is simply the last nail in the Bobcats' coffin.  Both squads play teams strong at the center and power forward positions, but the Pacers are better equipped to handle that right now.  Combine that advantage, with a less hectic schedule and a head-to-head tiebreaker, and the Pacers should eke out a playoff birth in the East. 

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