The Sixers host the Indiana Pacers tonight at the Wells Fargo Center. The game has some serious playoff implications, and figures to be very entertaining. Tom Lewis (@IndyCornrows), who covers the Pacers for Indy Cornrows, was kind enough to join me for a chat about tonight’s game.
Kevin F. Love: How have the Pacers been playing lately?
Tom Lewis: The Pacers are 14-6 in their last 20 games and 7-3 in their last 10, which includes two inexplicable losses to Dallas and Atlanta. Injuries, the return of Glenn Robinson III and the addition of Trevor Booker had the Pacers grinding to put forth a strong effort each night as Nate McMillan mixes and matches rotation parts. Fortunately, they have come together at winning time with three of their last four wins by three points or less. Victor Oladipo remains the leader but has struggled shooting the ball since the All-Star break. One reason for that is teams are loading up on Vic and playing him more physical. On the plus side, young big man Myles Turner has played with more purpose of late which will surely be tested in Philly tonight and Bojan Bogdanovic has been shooting lights out cover up for Vic.
KFL: What is/should be the Pacers goal over the remaining schedule?
TL: The Pacers face a rough schedule over the remainder of the season with nine road games and four games against Toronto and Golden State. One of those games against the Warriors is part of a four-game roadie against Western Conference teams. With 15 games remaining, the Pacers can’t go .500 but finishing 8-7 instead of 7-8 should be a goal and could be the difference in a playoff seed in the tight Eastern Conference.
KFL: How do the Pacers leave Wells Fargo Center victorious tonight?
TL: The Pacers are fully healthy for the third consecutive game, although it appears Darren Collison will continue coming off the bench. The Pacers will win if they can find the right combo to make a few big runs at the Sixers. That means getting something meaningful out of Collison, Lance Stephenson or Corey Joseph in support of Oladipo. More importantly, they need some production out of Myles Turner and a team effort on the glass to minimize what will likely be a rebounding deficit. Oh, and find J.J. Redick. Way back in November, Redick almost single-handedly shot down the Pacers in Philly.
KFL: What about the Sixers? If I told you I saw the future and Philly takes the game tonight, how did it happen?
TL: Hmm, where do I begin? The first frightening thought is Joel Embiid flashes his dominant all-around game to both suck the life out of Myles Turner and punish the Pacers in the process (not that process). Second, we know the Sixers are going to launch their share of threes and if they make over 40 percent the Pacers are going to struggle to hang around. On the road in particular, the Pacers reserve rotation can go dry in the second and/or third quarter leaving a hole to climb out of down the stretch. Doing so against the Sixers will be lethal.
KFL: Possible X-factor for the Pacers?
TL: Lance Stephenson is always the X-factor for the Pacers and he showed up big in the last meeting. Those types of games are rare on the road for Lance, so a more impactful factor may be the combo of Myles Turner and Domas Sabonis at least neutralizing the big-man matchup in general and Embiid in particular.
KFL: Is there anyway Victor Oladipo is not awarded Most Improved Player for this season?
TL: I can’t imagine Oladipo won’t win MIP this year. Not only has his offensive game surged to another level which made him an easy All-Star selection, but he’s also leading the league in steals which he often flips around to zip down to the other end for easy buckets. His personality and leadership among the team has been just as important as his on-court production and the fact the Pacers are 11 games over .500 is absurd and certainly not possible without everything Oladipo brings to the team.
KFL: Come April 12th, who will be higher in the Eastern Conference Standings: Pacers or Sixers?
TL: As I mentioned earlier, the Pacers will do well to go 8-7 down the stretch as the schedule gets nasty to close out the season. The Sixers are playing at a similar clip to the Pacers but appear to have a few more W’s awaiting them to close out the regular season. That leads me to believe the Sixers will be ahead of the Pacers at the end of the season, but the result tonight could play a huge role. With the tiebreaker up for grabs, a win would essentially give the Pacers a four-game lead while a loss would make them even.
I’d really like to extend my gratitude to Tom Lewis of Indy Cornrows for his valuable insight. Thanks Tom! You can follow Tom on Twitter @IndyCornrows for the latest Pacers news, or check out Indy Cornrows game coverage here for tonight’s Sixers/Pacers matchup.