It's been a long time coming, but for the first time in five years, the Indiana Pacers are headed to the playoffs.
Most considered it a foregone conclusion heading into these last few games, with the Milwaukee Bucks too far behind and the Charlotte Bobcats too banged up and too challenged to depleted to hang with the Pacers -- but as we have seen all year, with this Pacers squad, you just never know.
Thankfully, last night, with a comprehensive 136-112 beatdown of the hapless Washington Wizards (which featured the first good start to a game that I can remember), coupled with an overtime Bobcats loss to the Orlando Magic, the Pacers are in. They can lose the final three games of the season and finish 36-46 (which is highly likely considering they play Atlanta, New York and @Orlando), and they will still make the playoffs.
Interestingly, 36-46 is the record the Pacers finished with in 2008 and 2009 and yet they just missed the playoffs in those years. Some might want to rain on the parade and say that the Pacers made it not because they deserved it, but only because the East is so weak at the moment. Whatever. What non-fans don't realize is how long Pacers fans have waited for a return to the playoffs.
Sure, it's just as the eighth seed, and let's be honest here -- the Pacers will be lucky to even take one game off Chicago (or Boston) -- but I'll gladly take that over missing the playoffs for yet another year. This is a new squad, not the legendary teams with Reggie Miller and Rik Smits and Jalen Rose and Mark Jackson and the Davises that made the Conference Finals just about every year. This team is learning and on the upswing, and these playoffs are just the beginning.
I'm awfully excited. Chances are the Pacers will look like a bunch of deer in the headlights in the first few games, probably get blown out. The Washington game aside, this season they've shown an inability to get off to a good start, something they can't afford against the top seed. But what we also know is that when these Pacers are on their game, they can beat any team in the NBA.
These last three games will be interesting still. It will be nice to see the Pacers build some momentum and confidence leading in the playoffs and not rest on their laurels knowing that they've already made it. It will reveal a lot about this team and what kind of performance they might have in the playoffs.
In the meantime, let's celebrate! Woo hoo!