The Indiana Pacers realize they may not make the playoffs even if they win all of their remaining games, but they plan on doing all they can in hopes of taking the Eastern Conference’s final spot.
Indiana and Milwaukee conclude a home-and-home series Sunday as the Pacers try for their seventh consecutive win over the Bucks at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Indiana (32-44) won 105-101 at Milwaukee (26-49) on Friday for its third victory in four games and seventh in its last 10. The recent run of success may not be enough for the Pacers to catch Atlanta, which holds the final playoff spot in the East. The Hawks visit Indiana on Tuesday.
“We put ourselves in a tough situation,” said Jermaine O’Neal, who has played the last three games after missing the previous 33 with a sore left knee.
After this contest, Indiana has five games remaining - three against teams with losing records.
The Pacers know that ultimately their fate won’t lie in their own hands, but the chance to make the postseason after missing out in 2006-07 for the first time in 10 years provides plenty of incentive to close this season strong.
The last time the Pacers failed to make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons was 1987-88 and 88-89.
“At this point in the season, if you still have a chance to get in there, there’s tons of motivation,” Mike Dunleavy said after Friday’s win. “There’s six games to go now. Hey, we’re mathematically alive, so we have got to keep fighting.”
Dunleavy had 27 points and 11 rebounds on Friday, scoring 12 in the fourth quarter to help stave off a late Milwaukee rally. The Bucks trailed by as many as 13 points and never led, but Michael Redd scored with 11.4 seconds remaining to cut Indiana’s lead to three. Dunleavy then hit two free throws to seal the win.
“Michael has had an extraordinary year for us,” coach Jim O’Brien said. “Everything we have asked him to do, he has done at a very high level. He’s a clutch performer.”
Dunleavy is second on the Pacers in scoring with a career-high 18.7 points per game. He’s averaging 28.3 points in three games against Milwaukee this season.
The Bucks, meanwhile, have already been eliminated from postseason contention. They came into Friday having won back-to-back games against New York and Washington.
Redd finished with 28 points and Andrew Bogut added 21 points and 16 rebounds against the Pacers. Bogut, scoring 14.2 points this season, has averaged 23.0 in his last four games.
“I’m trying to use these games as a stepping stone to get better,” said Bogut, the top overall pick in 2005. “That’s all the motivation I have individually going into these games is to try to get better as a basketball player.”
The Bucks’ last win at Conseco Fieldhouse was 89-86 on Dec. 7, 2004. Redd, who had 28 points in that game, is averaging 32.8 in his last four against the Pacers.