Indiana Pacers @ Philadelphia 76’ers -3
The Philadelphia 76’ers have been in an absolute free fall since the All-Star break, but with a two and half game cushion over Milwaukee, it appears pretty likely that they are going to safely land in the playoffs. However, they would be wise to nab a few wins down the stretch just in case. They are currently in seventh by virtue of the tiebreaker lead over the Knicks, but in truth, the #7 versus #8 slots are of little consequence. Quietly, many teams have speculated that both would prefer to actually be eighth to face the Bulls as opposed to the Heat in the Round One.
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The Pacers just keep winning. And despite the wins piling up and their clear emergence as the #3 seed in the East, they continue to be talked about as the team “you want to play in the first round.” People have a healthy fear and respect for Boston, who will be the #4 seed unless they can overcome Pacers (unlikely). But both the Hawks and Magic would rather be #6 than #5. Such is the crazy life in the final few weeks of the NBA regular season.
However, those teams might want to be careful what they wish for. Indiana is athletic, big and defends with ferocity. They have a legit shot-blocking, rebounding All-Star center in Roy Hibbert, tremendous defensive guards with George Hill and Paul George, an excellent distributor and floor general in Darren Collison and an All-Star scorer in the versatile 6’9’’ Danny Granger. They have seven players who average more than nine points of game and a deep bench anchored by Hill and Tyler Hansbrough. In short – this is a team built for a long, grueling seven game series.
Tonight’s game jumped out at me for the mere fact that Philadelphia is favored. I’d expect this game to be a pick ‘em, if not a Pacer by one or two line. However, it opened at -3.5 for Philly and has only closed a half point. The Pacers are an excellent road team, with the fourth best road record in the NBA. Philly is simply an average home team. In fact, their home record is percentage points worse than Indy’s record on the road. That is pretty rare for a pair of playoff teams.
I like the Pacers to handle their business on the road and all but lock up the three seed in the East. They will likely coast the final three games, but I expect the pedal to still be down tonight in Philly.
Free Pick: Indiana Pacers +3