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Pacers complete another lottery-bound season with win No. 35
The Pacers finished the season losing 10 of their final 14 games, but not their last one. They returned from New York with a victory despite being shorthanded.
The Indiana Pacers’ 2022-23 season officially came to an end Sunday afternoon in New York City. They used 41-point first and fourth quarters to complete a comeback and win at Madison Square Garden, 141-136.
They finished the season with a 35-47 record, a 10-win improvement from last season and above what the oddsmakers expected entering the year.
The last three weeks or so have been about the future, both in terms of player development and aiming for a better draft pick. They dropped 10 of their final 14 games, including the previous three. But they failed to complete that task on Sunday.
Why does that matter?
Because at this time of the season, it’s all about lottery odds for a team like the Pacers. And so Sunday’s win was a costly one.
They finished in a tie with Washington for seventh in the inverse standings rather than a tie with Orlando for sixth. The difference in odds for the chance to jump into the top four is about eight percent.
The Pacers also own Cleveland and Boston's first-round selection in the upcoming draft. Cleveland's will either be 25 or 26 after a tie is broken with Memphis, and Boston is slotted in at 29.
And there’s another BIG tiebreaker they’ll be watching closely. Because the Rockets and Spurs won, they tied for the second-worst record (22-40) behind the Pistons. If the Spurs win the coin flip, the Rockets will get the 32nd overall pick and it then becomes the Pacers’ from a previous trade.
However, if the Rockets win the tiebreaker, they don’t own pick 31 or 32 so the Pacers receive the Heat’s pick — which is substantially worse. Plus, they have another second-round pick incoming.
All tiebreakers will be handled prior to the draft lottery, which is held in Chicago in May.
Either way, the Pacers will have a handful of picks and they are not expected to use all of them. There’s just not space or reasonable time for development. Therefore, a deal including a few of them is most likely.
The Pacers clearly committed the final few weeks of the season to the big picture — wisely so, by the way — by sitting Tyrese Haliburton and Myles Turner to both lead to better lottery odds and to see the young guys in different roles.
Like Bennedict Mathurin, last year’s lottery pick at six. They finished with seven players in double figures during the season finale, led by his 26 points in 37 minutes. Andrew Nembhard, the 31st overall pick, had 19 points and nine assists and Jordan Nwora, acquired midseason via trade, contributed 19.
The photo above is from a memorable moment in the second half.
George Hill landed hard on his right shoulder in the first half, applied heat on it to start the second and then went 3 for 3 from range. Both Hill (17 points) and Buddy Hield (15) made five 3s each in the game, contributing to the team’s 19 that gave them an edge on the Knicks (+12).
Hield, the 30-year-old guard, proudly led the team in games played this season with 80. He also set a new personal and franchise record for made 3s in a season (288).
And upon returning home from New York City, the veteran players had a surprise waiting for Mathurin. His car was wrapped, a fitting way to wrap the season.
And he knew something was coming, eventually…
“My vets be calling me hardheaded on my team because I ain’t trying to do the rookie tasks,” he said in February. “That’s for Drew (Nembhard), my guy over there. You get drafted to a team and you got some vets and you got to do the tasks. They keep asking me if I like extra butter, trying to get popcorn in my car. I just got to do the tasks.”
The Pacers spent this entire season trying to establish an identity and a culture, something head coach Rick Carlisle has stressed several times is a daily task. Among the character traits the front office went after last summer was highly-determined and -motivated players, guys who were competitors and hated to lose. I think we saw that in Mathurin, Nembhard and a few others.
Sunday was proof of that.
Carlisle, who was hired in June 2021, is under contract for two more seasons.
The focus the past two seasons has largely been on rebuilding and player development. The wins start to matter again next season. The playoffs aren’t just the goal, they are the expectation.
The front office has plenty of options to go, from a handful of draft selections to several players who can be included in trade packages. They need to solidify both forward positions and provide clarity on their approach with excessive guards and centers.
Then, they must make significant improvement on the defensive end, which has been troubling for three straight years.
And this will be the third consecutive postseason where the Pacers aren’t one of 16 participants. Instead, all eyes are on the draft lottery to see how high they will be picking in the NBA Draft.
We will hear from the players on Monday after exit interviews followed by Kevin Pritchard, the president of basketball operations, on Tuesday afternoon.
And I’ll continue to have full coverage right here on Fieldhouse Files.
You can also catch me this week on:
Sunday, 10:40 p.m.: FOX 59
Tuesday and Wednesday: Co-hosting The Fan Mid-Day Show (12-3 p.m. ET) on 107.5 The Fan in Indianapolis.
More news to come. Stay tuned.
May 16: Draft lottery
May 17-19: Draft combine
June 22: Draft
July 7-17: Las Vegas Summer League