INDIANAPOLIS -- When it comes to regular season games even this late in the schedule, there’s a tendency by coaches and players to downplay its big-picture significance.
The Indiana Pacers are not trying to play that game, folks.
We all know that the winner of Friday night’s game between them and Boston will put that team one step closer towards securing home court advantage at least through the first round of the playoffs.
And when you look at the home court dynamic coupled with Friday’s game being a likely preview of these two meeting in the first round of the playoffs, the magnitude of this game is inescapable.
“(Friday night) is about trying to get home court and being ready to play,” said Pacers head coach Nate McMillan. “That’s what you play for.”
Many of McMillan’s players echoed similar sentiments about the importance of Friday night’s game which is more of a must-win game for Indiana which needs to win in order to even up the head-to-head series which Boston currently leads 2-1.
“We’re gonna treat it like a playoff game,” said Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis. “This game is important. We’re going to fight for home court.”
So will the Celtics (47-32) who like Indiana, comes into this game with an identical record as well as an identical two-game winning streak.
Friday's game, much like the likely playoff matchup between these two, may come down to which team is healthier when it matters - now!
Team officials have listed Jaylen Brown (lower back stiffness) as doubtful.
If he does not play, it would be his third straight game missing with his current injury. Marcus Morris (right knee soreness) will not play for the second straight game. And the aforementioned Horford has some knee soreness, but team officials list him as probable for Friday night’s game.
The Pacers are dealing with injuries to key players as well (Wes Matthews has a hamstring injury and Darren Collison is dealing with a sore groin), and are in no rush to get them back on the floor until they are healthy enough to play.
Both are questionable for tonight’s game.
“We’re gonna make sure guys are as close to 100 percent as possible when you bring them back this time of year,” said Pacers head coach Nate McMillan.
Regardless of whether they are at full strength or not, Friday night’s game will be the kind of late-season tilt seldom seen.
It features two teams that are likely to face each other in the first round of the playoffs which in itself is incentive enough.
But when you throw in the fact that both teams will be fighting for home court in the first round of the playoffs as well, it has all the makings of what should be one of the better games seen this season.
But how big a deal is home court to the Pacers?
Well, that depends on how you interpret the data and who you ask.
Indiana comes into tonight’s game with a 29-10 record at home which is the fourth-most wins in the East. They are also four games below-.500 (18-22) when it comes to winning on the road. Boston isn't better when it comes to success at home, coming in with 28 wins to Indiana's 29.
But the difference comes on the road; specifically Boston is one game below-.500 (19-20) on the road which demonstrates that it is more of a toss-up when trying to gauge how they will play away from the TD Garden.
“Home court is a big deal,” said Wes Matthews. “But honestly, you’re gonna have to win on the road to win this series. It’s gonna be a battle. It’s gonna be a dog fight. It (starting off at home) gives you an advantage but nothing is guaranteed.”
Collison added, “I don’t buy into the playing for home court or play for a high seed. I think you just have to play your best. If we don’t get the four seed and we’re playing our best, I’m very confident going into anyone’s home court and get a win.”
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