Indiana Pacers surrender top seed amid late season slump

The Indiana Pacers surrendered their grip on the top NBA Eastern Conference playoff seed last night with a twenty-six point lead to the streaking San Antonio Spurs, and the timing couldn’t be worse: even as the Pacers and Heat have each struggled through the month of March, with neither willing or able to take a commanding lead in the standings while frequently sinking to the level of their opponents, the Heat appear to have finally found their focus by dispensing with three consecutive lesser teams. That weakens the possibility that Indiana might be able to slide into the top seed by default, leaving the Pacers with the sudden need for soul searching.

Pacers players appear to be keenly aware of their situation, with their most prominent players using on-air post game interviews last night to declare that they don’t deserve the number one playoff seed if they keep playing the way they did against San Antonio. Losing to the Spurs may be considered no sin in and of itself of late, as the Spurs’ last eighteen opponents have each come away losers. But the sheer size of last night’s point differential suggests that Indiana is lacking focus when playing against anyone but Miami; the Pacers took down the Heat last week in a hard fought game but have struggled since.

That signals some hope that the Pacers may be able to flip the switch back on once they inevitably meet the Heat in the Eastern finals next month. But the current direction of both teams suggests that Miami will have home court advantage, hosting pivotal games one and seven at home. And there’s also now some merit in questioning whether the Pacers will be able to coast their way through their first two playoff opponents before getting to the Heat, particularly if the Pacers end up facing the resurgent Brooklyn Nets in the first round.

With two weeks remaining in the NBA regular season, the Pacers still have time to find their focus. That makes last night’s embarrassing loss either a needed wake up call or a signal of surrender, with home court advantage still hanging in the balance.