Commentary

Playoff Push: Don't count out the Pacers just yet

The Pacers, Nets and Hawks are slugging it out for the last playoff spot in the East.

Originally Published: April 11, 2008
By Maurice Brooks | ESPN.com

Jermaine O'NealRocky Widner/NBAE via Getty ImagesWith Jermaine O'Neal back in the lineup, the Pacers will be a tough out down the stretch.

Remember the 1977 Bee Gees classic, Stayin' Alive?

Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive.

If the Pacers haven't adopted this as their official theme song yet, maybe they should.

Indiana stayed alive in its quest for the eighth and final playoff spot on Tuesday by turning away the visiting Hawks, 112-98. A victory by Atlanta would have eliminated the Pacers from postseason contention.

Instead, Indiana lives to sing another day.

Watch The Push

Playoff Push The NBA Playoff Push on ESPN and ABC continues this week. All NBA games are available in HD, and all ESPN telecasts are simulcast live on ESPN360.com and ESPN Mobile TV.

This week's schedule:

Date Matchup
Wednesday New Orleans at Dallas, 7 p.m., ESPN and ESPN360.com
Utah at San Antonio, 9:30 p.m., ESPN and ESPN360.com
All times Eastern
With just four games remaining on their schedule, the Pacers, who own the tiebreaker against the Hawks by virtue of winning the season series, trail Atlanta by just two games.

The Pacers, who are 9-3 in their last 12 games, have received a big boost on the defensive end of the floor thanks to Jermaine O'Neal's return from a knee injury.

Up next for Indiana is a Friday trip to Philly to take on the red-hot Sixers, who are in a three-team fight with the Cavaliers and Wizards for the fourth spot in the East.

The Pacers close out the season at home Saturday against Charlotte, on the road Monday against Washington and at home Wednesday against the Knicks.

Meanwhile, the Hawks are in position to earn their first playoff berth since the 1998-99 season. Atlanta faces the Knicks on Friday before hosting the Celtics (Saturday) and Magic (Tuesday) and wrapping up the regular season in Miami on Wednesday.

The final team slugging it out for a playoff spot in the East is the Nets, who are four games behind the Hawks and two games in back of the Pacers. A loss by New Jersey against Toronto or a win by the Hawks on Friday, would mean that the Nets would miss the postseason for the first time since 2001.

Friday's Playoff Push Games Of Note

New Orleans at L.A. Lakers -- Every now and then, the schedule makers get it right although there is no way they knew that this late-season matchup had the potential to be the 2007-08 NBA regular season game of the year.

The best point guard in the league, Chris Paul, taking on the best player in the league, Kobe Bryant, in a battle between the top two candidates in the MVP hunt.

As if that weren't good enough, New Orleans, which didn't even make the playoffs last season, has a West-leading record of 55-23, while the Lakers, who blew out the Clippers on Thursday, are 54-25 which puts them second in the conference.

New Orleans clinches a Southwest division title and best record in Western Conference with a win and losses by both Houston and San Antonio. The L.A. Lakers clinch the Pacific division title with a win and a Phoenix loss.

Cleveland at Chicago (ESPN2, ESPN360.com, 7 ET) -- With a playoff spot all locked up, now would be the perfect time for the Cavaliers to rest LeBron James, right?

Apparently not.

When Cleveland takes the floor Friday against Chicago, it will have its superstar in the lineup despite the fact he is suffering from nagging back spasms.

The Cavaliers are just two games ahead of the Wizards and three in front of the Sixers for the fourth spot in the East and the home-court advantage in the first round that comes with it.

All three teams have four games left to play.

Philadelphia hosts Indiana, while Washington visits Detroit in Friday night action.

Maurice Brooks is an NBA editor at ESPN.com

Maurice Brooks, former Race to the MVP columnist at NBA.com, is an NBA editor at ESPN.com.