DimeMag

NBA Power Rankings Week 18: The Pacers Are Scuffling After A Hot Start

The Indiana Pacers were widely projected as a team that would win in the range of 46-47 games during the 2019-20 season. As the end of February approaches, that projection appears to be spot-on, with FiveThirtyEight projecting the Pacers to finish with 47 victories and a current record of 33-24 that seemingly aligns with consensus. However, there was tangible buzz about the Pacers earlier in the campaign and things are waning in the back half of the season.

Whispers began about the Pacers when they started 0-3 but, in short order, the tide turned for Nate McMillan’s team, even as Victor Oladipo was sidelined with injury. Indiana zoomed to a 30-13 mark in the next 43 games and, on the morning of Jan. 25, the Pacers were just 1.5 games away from the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference. Since then, though, things have taken a turn for the worse for Indiana.

The Pacers are now 3-8 in the last 11 games and, during that span, the team has only one quality win, which came over the Milwaukee Bucks without the services of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Things crashed even more in their last outing, with Indiana losing by a 46-point margin on Toronto on Sunday, further sinking into the projection of the No. 6 seed in the East. To add injury to insult, the Pacers also lost Jeremy Lamb for the season, eliminating a quality wing option from their rotation.

Indiana being the No. 6 seed before the season began would’ve been anything but surprising. Considering the way the team played without Oladipo, however, it is a bit of a shock and the Pacers have been markedly worse after their best player’s return to action. In 200 minutes of play this season, the Pacers have a -5.6 net rating when Oladipo plays, plagued by a dismal 98.6 offensive rating. Oladipo’s individual numbers are also worrisome, with 33% from the floor and 25% from three in his eight games. Quite obviously, an eight-game sample is far too small to draw conclusions but, in short, the Pacers were supposed to be receiving a jolt of positive momentum when Oladipo returned and the opposite happened.

There is no real danger for the Pacers at this stage, especially when remembering the Brooklyn Nets (without Kyrie Irving) and the Orlando Magic (without Jonathan Isaac) are the teams projected at No. 7 and No. 8. With that said, it is possible that Indiana could “live up” to preseason expectations, all while disappointing for much of the second half of the season.

Where do the Pacers rank in this week’s DIME power rankings? Let’s find out.

1. Milwaukee Bucks (49-8, Last week — 1st)

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The Bucks haven’t lost a game in February with Giannis Antetokounmpo in the lineup. The Bucks are the only team in the NBA that has already clinched a playoff berth. The Bucks have the best record and the best net rating. Let’s just start at No. 2.

2. Los Angeles Lakers (43-12, Last week — 2nd)

As you can see, the Lakers were already No. 2 last week and fortified that standing with a pair of high-end victories. Los Angeles beat Denver on the road and held serve against Boston at home, closing the week on an active, five-game winning streak. It’s going pretty well for LeBron and company on the floor.

3. Toronto Raptors (42-15, Last week — 4th)

The Raptors have been unbelievable in winning 17 of the last 18 games. Toronto will be tested when Milwaukee comes to town on Tuesday evening but, considering the Bucks will be on the second night of a back-to-back, no one should be surprised if the Raptors continue their winning ways.

4. Houston Rockets (37-20, Last week — 9th)

James Harden and company just wrapped up a 4-0 week that included a home win over Boston and a road win over Utah. The Rockets have enjoyed big-time offensive success with their small-ball lineups and, even if the questions are valid about the matchup versatility of Houston’s roster, it’s working right now.

5. Boston Celtics (39-17, Last week — 3rd)

On the surface, it was a 2-2 week for the Celtics, but there is no great shame in losing to Houston and Los Angeles on the road. In fact, the Celtics haven’t dropped a home game in more than a month, and Boston has done quite well to survive amid injury issues, including a current ailment for Kemba Walker.

6. Denver Nuggets (39-18, Last week — 8th)

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The Nuggets came (very) close to knocking off the Lakers this week but, between that narrow defeat at home and a road loss in OKC, it was more of a status quo type of performance. That’s alright when you’re the No. 2 seed in the West, but now their lead over our next team is down to one game.

7. L.A. Clippers (38-19, Last week — 7th)

Paul George (and Patrick Beverley) returned on Monday and the Clippers absolutely decimated the Grizzlies. It is tough to gauge what Doc Rivers’ team is when they’ve been so uneven in terms of roster deployment, but everyone can agree that they are scary when healthy.

8. Philadelphia 76ers (36-22, Last week — 6th)

It hasn’t all been pretty, but the Sixers have won five of six. Joel Embiid was completely dominant in a win over Atlanta on Monday but, in short, there should be a lot of attention paid to Ben Simmons’ back injury. If that issue lingers, Philly is in some trouble.

9. Oklahoma City Thunder (35-22, Last week — 10th)

Since mid-December, the Thunder have the same net rating (+5.3) as the Lakers. They have a better net rating than the Clippers, Mavs, Rockets, Nuggets and Heat. Is that good?

10. Dallas Mavericks (35-23, Last week — 11th)

The Mavs lost in Atlanta this week, but that result came without Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. While it was unfortunate that fans missed out on Luka vs. Trae for the entire season, Dallas is in good shape moving forward on the strength of their historically dominant offense.

11. Miami Heat (36-21, Last week — 12th)

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This ranking is probably giving Miami more respect than they might deserve. The Heat are 2-6 in the last eight games and their only wins came over Golden State and Cleveland. In addition, the Heat managed to blow a lead and lose in Cleveland on Monday, furthering their general malaise.

12. Utah Jazz (36-21, Last week — 5th)

The streakiness of the Jazz can’t be overstated. Since mid-December, all of their results can be encapsulated by four streaks. They won 19 of 21 games. Then, they lost five straight. Utah followed that with four straight wins… and now they’ve lost three in a row. This latest stretch includes all home losses, though, and that isn’t ideal by any measure.

13. New Orleans Pelicans (25-32, Last week — 16th)

I know the Pelicans are 25-32 and this seems high as a result. New Orleans is also 19-10 since mid-December and, during that 29-game stretch, the Pelicans have the 7th-best net rating (+4.6) in the NBA. They are legitimately good and that is now on display, highlighted by the performance of No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson.

14. Memphis Grizzlies (28-29, Last week — 13th)

Unfortunately, the schedule might be catching up to the Grizzlies, as evidenced by three straight losses on the road. Memphis now opens this week with a road game in Houston and, even with a reprieve after that, the strength of schedule might spell doom for the young Grizzlies if they don’t ratchet things up in a hurry — with the added difficulty of being without Jaren Jackson Jr. for at least two weeks.

15. Portland Trail Blazers (26-32, Last week — 17th)

Portland split their first two games after the break and, without Damian Lillard, that is more than acceptable. All eyes will be on Portland when the All-NBA guard returns because, well, the Blazers aren’t a playoff-caliber team when he doesn’t play, and their margin of error is quite slim, even with him.

16. Indiana Pacers (33-24, Last week — 15th)

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The next three games are (very) favorable for the Pacers, with home tilts against Charlotte and Portland before a road game in Cleveland. With that in mind, Indiana could right the ship, but they need to string together some wins soon to raise spirits.

17. Orlando Magic (25-32, Last week — 18th)

Orlando went into Brooklyn and won on Monday. That is the entire reason that the Magic arrive before the Nets on this list. Sophisticated stuff, I know.

18. Brooklyn Nets (26-30, Last week — 14th)

Kyrie isn’t walking through that door and, intuitively, one would assume that greatly hurts the Nets. With that said, Brooklyn is 8-5 in the last 13 games and they are 18-18 overall without their star point guard. Fortunately, there isn’t much the Nets need to do to hang on to a playoff spot, but they’d probably like to avoid the No. 8 seed and a date with Milwaukee.

19. Sacramento Kings (23-33, Last week — 21st)

Sacramento is 8-4 in the last 12 games and, while it is probably too late for a full-blown push, this is what the Kings were supposed to look like. They’re even coaxing positive play from Kent Bazemore, who arrived as something of an afterthought in late January.

20. Phoenix Suns (24-34, Last week — 22nd)

The Suns are 13-14 in the last 27 games. They also put together a wildly impressive, 20-point road win in Salt Lake City on Monday, and that is the type of performance that will make people pay attention to the uptick in overall performance. The Suns would be 1.5 games out of the playoffs if they were in the East.

21. San Antonio Spurs (24-32, Last week — 19th)

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Gregg Popovich’s team hasn’t played a home game since Feb. 1. That is wild to consider but, while the Spurs would’ve liked to post better than a 2-6 mark during an extended road trip, it wasn’t a full-blown disaster. San Antonio is only 3.5 games out of the No. 8 seed.

22. Washington Wizards (20-36, Last week — 20th)

Washington is 0-3 since the All-Star break and losses to Cleveland (at home) and Chicago are pretty bad. There is some respect due for the Wizards, though, as Washington nearly knocked off the Bucks on Monday evening. Bradley Beal just posted back-to-back games with 53 points or more, which is certainly worth appreciating.

23. Atlanta Hawks (17-42, Last week — 24th)

Trae Young put up his first 50-point game this week and, in a team-wide sense, the Hawks are playing better. Atlanta is 9-10 in the last 19 games and, while Clint Capela hasn’t arrived on the floor just yet, it is easy to see the impact of a relatively healthy (and suspension-free) roster that has some young talent.

24. Charlotte Hornets (19-37, Last week — 23rd)

The Hornets have seemingly emerged from the wilderness. Charlotte lost 13 of 14 games in January and early February but, since then, the Hornets have won three of four. Losing to the Nets by 29 points at home is pretty bad, and Charlotte did that on Saturday…. but we can try to be positive.

25. Chicago Bulls (20-38, Last week — 26th)

After eight consecutive losses that killed any (faint) hope of a playoff push, the Bulls did win their last game on Sunday. Granted, that was a home win over the Wizards, but they all count in the standings.

26. Cleveland Cavaliers (16-41, Last week — 29th)

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Don’t look now, but the Cavs have won three out of the last four games. In fact, Cleveland knocked off Miami in overtime on Tuesday and, while the other two victories weren’t all that noteworthy, the win over the Heat is a strong data point.

27. New York Knicks (17-40, Last week — 25th)

Because of a four-game winning streak in early February, the Knicks have a significantly better recent profile than the teams below them. New York has still lost four in a row, however, and it’s not as if they are playing lights-out basketball.

28. Detroit Pistons (19-40, Last week — 27th)

Detroit’s roster is completely decimated by injuries and defections, and that is evident in a 2-12 record over the last 14 games. There are a few bright spots but, for the most part, it is pretty bleak as the Pistons attempt to kickstart their rebuild.

29. Minnesota Timberwolves (16-40, Last week — 28th)

It’s kind of unbelievable that the Wolves aren’t No. 30. Minnesota has lost 18 of 19 games and that is usually more than enough to fall into the basement. You’ll see why they haven’t momentarily but, make no mistake, it’s been very bad in the Twin Cities.

30. Golden State Warriors (12-45, Last week — 30th)

The Warriors are four games worse than the entire NBA field. That is pretty tough to do considering the ineptitude of some of their competitors, and Golden State is building quite an “edge” in their pursuit of the basement. A six-game losing streak only further solidifies their current standing.

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