Indiana Pacers: Closing the year and climbing for the 2-seed

Photo by Barry GossageNBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Barry GossageNBAE via Getty Images /

The Indiana Pacers have a chance in the coming weeks to take advantage of their schedule and climb the rankings of the Eastern Conference heading into 2019.

With a very pronounced win over Milwaukee Wednesday night, the Indiana Pacers welcomed Victor Oladipo back into the lineup after missing 11 games with a knee injury.

Not only is it convenient for the Pacers to have their star guard back and fully healthy, but that win put them in a good position to jump up the rankings and compete with the Toronto Raptors atop the Eastern Conference at the advent of the new year.

Looking at their upcoming schedule for the month of December, only three of their nine matchups left this month are against teams over .500, including Friday night’s matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers. A win against Philly would make it the Pacers’ sixth in a row, and would put them a half-game above the Sixers for the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

Wins against the below-.500 teams left on their December schedule — the New York Knicks, Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks, respectively–would put them either in close contention or just ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks at the 2-seed in the Eastern Conference to start 2019.

Despite rumors reported by ESPN‘s Brian Windhorst about the team potentially moving one of their point guards to clear room for rookie Aaron Holiday, the team has been playing well. Cory Joseph and Darren Collison have been effective splitting their minutes at the point thus far.

Indiana would be wise to keep this squad together and work to make a run toward the top of the conference through the month of January, since there isn’t a trade scenario right now that guarantees much of a return for either guard.

The best-case scenario for Indiana is hitting its stride in January with a fully healthy Oladipo and finding a rotation that allows opportunities for everyone (including Holiday) to contribute. But that challenge starts on the road Friday night, against a Sixers team that is a league-best 14-2 on its home court.

Indiana will have its hands full at the Wells Fargo Center with Jimmy Butler, who the Sixers added just five days after defeating the Pacers on their home court. Butler has been big in clutch moments for the team since he’s joined. Couple that with the Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid tandem and it could cause some problems.

However, if Thaddeus Young can defend Butler like he did Giannis Antetokounmpo the other night, maybe the Pacers won’t struggle after all:

There is momentum to be gained from this last stretch in December that can be carried into the new year and All-Star Break.

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What matters most is that the Indiana Pacers capitalize on this win streak and keep the wins coming with Victor Oladipo seeing more and more minutes now that he’s back from injury.