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Mark BradleyMark Bradley

Is the Pacers’ slide a bad break for the Hawks?

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The Bulls enjoyed beating Indy on Monday. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

The Bulls enjoyed beating Indy on Monday. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

The Atlanta Hawks, who’ve lost three games in four days, are lucky to be 2 1/2 games ahead of New York for the final playoff spot in the East. (That’s if you consider making the playoffs preferable to landing in the NBA lottery, which the Hawks apparently do.) Had the Knicks not blown a 15-point halftime lead at home against wretched Cleveland on Sunday, the Hawks’ lead would be two games with 13 remaining.

It could be that the Hawks will get unlucky regarding their postseason opponent. (According to John Hollinger’s playoff odds, as posted on ESPN.com, they have an 88.9 percent chance of making it.) The Indiana Pacers, who are apt to be the No. 1 seed in the East, are stinking out the joint. They’ve lost three of four and seven of 12. They’ve beaten one team that’s above .500 since Feb. 7.

Worse, the Pacers appear to be in disarray. Team president Larry Bird told Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star that he believed the Pacers had become too passive. After Monday’s loss in Chicago, Brian Windhorst of ESPN wrote of guard Lance Stephenson: “At times, he flat-out hogs the ball,” and suggested that the midseason acquisitions of Andrew Bynum and Evan Turner had alienated the incumbent players, who after all had forged the best record in the East.

After Monday’s game, forward David West told Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star that the team looked like crud, although he used a different word. Some of this is surely a function of the elongated NBA regular season, in which the Pacers really have nothing more to prove. But Indiana is different from the Miami Heat, who have themselves been sliding: Miami knows it can gather itself for the playoffs because it has won consecutive NBA titles; unless you go back to the ABA days of Roger Brown and Mel Daniels and Freddie Lewis, the Pacers have no such history.

The Pacers hold a two-game lead over Miami with 11 games to play. (The Heat have 13 games remaining.) The two will meet twice. It’s possible, though not probable, that Indiana could fall to second place, which wouldn’t be great news for the No. 8 seed, which figures to be the Hawks. The Pacers have been very good for most of this season and did beat the Hawks in Round 1 last spring. All things considered, I’d still rather face the team that doesn’t have LeBron.

From myajc.com, our premium site: Can the Hawks win a playoff round? Probably not.

 

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