It took until mid-April for the New Jersey Nets to secure a spot in the postseason. The Indiana Pacers, meanwhile, might have to wait until the final day of the season to find out if they will make the playoffs for the 10th straight year.
Indiana continues its pursuit of the eighth and final postseason berth in the Eastern Conference on Sunday when it hosts the playoff-bound Nets.
The Pacers (35-44) trail Orlando by two games for the last spot in the East with three contests remaining. Following this game, Indiana visits last-place Atlanta on Tuesday before closing the regular season at home against Washington the next night.
Once in the middle of the conference standings, Indiana is now on the verge of missing the postseason for the first time since 1996-97 thanks to a 2-17 stretch from Feb. 23-March 30.
The Pacers have rebounded to go 4-3 this month, but failed to pick up ground in the playoff race with a 100-96 loss in Miami on Friday. That defeat and a 100-86 win over New York allowed New Jersey (38-41) to clinch its sixth straight postseason appearance.
Indiana led the Heat by seven points with 4:02 remaining in the fourth quarter, but Miami made seven of its final eight shots and closed the game on a 16-5 run.
“Anything can happen,” said Pacers swingman Mike Dunleavy, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds. “We have three games left. We might as well play them and keep score. We’re still alive. Who knows what’s going to happen with the rest of these teams the rest of the way.”
“I feel bad for the guys,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said. “The way they battled, to have it happen like this, it’s very tough.”
New Jersey got off to a tough start on Friday, trailing the lowly Knicks by three points at halftime, but outscored New York 40-21 in the third quarter behind an outstanding performance by Jason Kidd.
The Nets point guard had 13 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists for his 12th triple-double of the season, and led a 21-9 run in the third that helped New Jersey eliminate its Atlantic Division rival from the playoff race.
“They were on the schedule,” said Kidd, who recorded his 87th triple-double. “Nobody was celebrating that we knocked the Knicks out. We got a much-needed win.”
Vince Carter had a game-high 25 points for New Jersey, which can still catch the Wizards for sixth place in the East.
“At one point, playoffs for us seemed farfetched in a lot of peoples’ minds,” Carter said. “As a unit, we stuck together. As bad as we played some nights, we still had our goal of making the playoffs.”
New Jersey finishes the regular season with a game at New York on Monday and a home contest against Chicago on Wednesday.
The Nets, who beat the Pacers in six games in the first round of the 2006 playoffs, have averaged 107.7 points in winning all three meetings between the teams this season.