Indiana improved its league-best record to 60-21 on Monday with a 107-93 victory over Philadelphia. While notching their fourth straight win, the Pacers eclipsed the single-season franchise mark for victories set by the 1969-70 squad that went 59-25 and won the ABA title.
The team’s best record since joining the NBA prior to the 1976-77 season was a 58-24 mark under first-year coach Larry Bird in 1997-98.
The Pacers, assured of home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, haven’t gotten the attention most 60-game winners have—due in part to the team playing in a weaker Eastern Conference.
“If it was L.A. or someone else, people would be saying all kinds of things,” said Jermaine O’Neal, who scored 28 points Monday. “It’s hard as hell to win 50 games in a season, never mind 60. That’s just us, though. We put on our hard hat and go to work.”
Next up for the Pacers is a first-round playoff matchup with the Boston Celtics, who bounced Indiana from the postseason last year—the Pacers’ third straight first-round exit.
“It’s great to win 60-plus games, but the ultimate goal is getting out of the first round and seeing what we’ve got then,” said O’Neal, who hasn’t won a playoff series since being traded to Indiana after the 1999-2000 season.
The Pacers fired coach Isiah Thomas after last year’s series loss and replaced him with Rick Carlisle, who was fired by the Detroit Pistons after consecutive 50-win seasons. The move worked—they’ve improved their win total by 12.
“That’s a real tribute to the consistent, high-level effort of our team all year long,” Carlisle said.
The Bulls will be closing their sixth straight losing season since the Michael Jordan era ended in 1998.
Chicago stumbled this season after improving on its record in the each of the previous two campaigns. The Bulls, 23-58 in 2003-04, went 30-52 last season after winning 21 games in 2001-02 and just 15 in 2000-01.
The Bulls lost for the ninth time in 12 games Monday, 93-84 to the league-worst Orlando Magic.
Marcus Fizer scored 30 points and Chris Jefferies added 15 for the Bulls, who played without big men Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler. Chicago also lost forward Antonio Davis early in the first quarter to a sprained knee.
“I was not going to allow myself to be flat and lackadaisical. We owe the fans at least that,” Fizer said after the Bulls closed their home schedule at 14-27. “I knew it was going to be a long night.”
A game after scoring 50 points—the most by a Bulls player since Jordan had 55 on April 27, 1997—Jamal Crawford was held to 14 on 5-of-17 shooting.
Chicago fans may have seen the last of Fizer and Crawford in Bulls uniforms. Both are restricted free agents, and a roster shakeup is expected in the offseason.
Both Crawford and Fizer said they want to return.
“There’s no question about that,” Fizer said. “I love the city. I love the organization, the fans. This is the organization that brought me to this league.”
STANDINGS (through April 12): Bulls - 8th place, 37 GB, Central Division. Pacers - 1st place (tied), Central Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Bulls - Crawford, 17.1 ppg; Davis, 8.4 rpg; Hinrich, 6.7 apg. Pacers - O’Neal, 20.1 ppg and 9.9 rpg; Tinsley, 5.8 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Pacers, 2-1.
LAST MEETING: March 22; Pacers, 101-77. At Indianapolis, Miller scored 17 points and Artest and Al Harrington each added 15 to help the Pacers overcome the loss of O’Neal, who left the game with a bruised knee.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Bulls - 9-31 on the road; Pacers - 33-7 at home.
INJURIES: Bulls - F Paul Shirley (kidney); G-F Kendall Gill (migraine); G-F Scottie Pippen (knee); F-C Chandler (back); F Davis (knee); F Jerome Williams (hamstring). Pacers - F Jonathan Bender (shoulder); F James Jones (quadriceps); G Jamison Brewer (toe).