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The All-Star break is over for the Indiana Pacers as they return to action tonight against the Detroit Pistons. Right now, Indiana is sixth in the Eastern Conference standings with 26 games left.

These are my ten storylines that I am monitoring for the final third of the regular season.

1. Tyrese Haliburton’s Health

Indiana Pacers v Toronto Raptors Source:Getty

Indiana’s success, playoff seeding, and playoff run is heavily reliant on the health of their two time All-Star. If Tyrese’s hamstring/back isn’t close to 100%, then the likelihood of the Pacers making a playoff run is slim. It appears he’s on the mend after his between the legs dunk in the skills competition. With Haliburton on the floor, Indiana is 24-19. 

2. Pascal Siakam’s Chemistry

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Siakam and Haliburton have only played together for ten games since being traded to Indiana. He’s averaging 21.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game. Indiana is 4-6 in those ten games. Now the chemistry between Siakam and the rest is the team is improving. Something I would like to see the Pacers do more of is use him as a screener for Haliburton or the other way around in pick-and-roll situations. Additionally, I’d like to see Siakam get the ball on the block and let him be a facilitator or scorer. 

3. Bennedict Mathurin Consistency

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With Buddy Hield being traded at the deadline to Philadelphia, it has created a huge opportunity for Mathurin to blossom. His minutes should become more consistent in the high 20’s or low 30’s. The question I have though is, can he be a consistent shooter? His shooting has improved from last season, but without Hield, the driving lanes to the basket aren’t always going to be there. Mathurin displayed in the Rising Stars game that he can create space off the dribble and knock down jump shots. Now it’s time to be consistent with it down the stretch while being active defensively. 

4. Rick Carlisle’s Leash

Atlanta Hawks v Indiana Pacers Source:Getty

In the recent weeks, Carlisle’s team has dealt with injuries. Tyrese Haliburton, Aaron Nesmith, Myles Turner, Jalen Smith, and Bennedict Mathurin have all missed games. Plus, Andrew Nembhard has missed time early in the season with various injuries. Most of the time, you see contending teams starting to tighten their rotation to better position themselves in the standings. If T.J. McConnell, Obi Toppin, and other bench players aren’t playing well, then do they see fewer minutes? Their depth was a point of emphasis leading up to the season. Is it time to get your best players on the floor in a jumbled Eastern Conference? Maybe. 

5. Playoff Picture

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As noted above, Indiana sits sixth in the Eastern Conference standings. They trail:

  • Philadelphia 76ers – 2 games for 5th
  • New York Knicks – 2.5 games for 4th
  • Milwaukee Bucks – 4 games for 3rd
  • Cleveland Cavaliers – 6.5 games for 2nd

Out of those four teams, Indiana only has two games against Cleveland remaining on their schedule. They do have a tough west coast road trip with games against Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, and LA Clippers. In my opinions, Indiana needs to finish sixth or third to prevent a second-round matchup against the Boston Celtics.

6. Ben Sheppard’s Minutes

Indiana Pacers v Phoenix Suns Source:Getty

The minutes for Sheppard have fluctuated from game-to-game and week-to-week. In the final game before the All-Star break, he won the game for the Pacers by making it hard for RJ Barrett to get a clean shot off in their win over Toronto. If Doug McDermott isn’t making shots, then does that open more minutes for Sheppard? Rick Carlisle has said that he’s earned his minutes. He’s somewhat of like T.J. McConnell in my eyes because he’s had moments where he gets the crowd going with hustle plays. Then the rest of the team feeds off the crowd. The only problem with Sheppard right now is that he’s shooting 28.8% on three-point shots. 

7. Jalen Smith’s Health

Indiana Pacers v Charlotte Hornets Source:Getty

Over the course of the last two weeks, Smith has been dealing with a back ailment. He left the game against Golden State on February 8th with back spasms and then missed the next three games before the break. Smith is such an important piece to the second unit for the Pacers. When he’s out there, he can help open up driving lanes for Mathurin because he’s shooting 48.4% from three. Teams have to respect him as a shooter. He’s having a career year with highs in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and points per game. Smith said yesterday that he’s feeling much better, but let’s hope this isn’t something that plagues him the rest of the season. 

8. Andrew Nembhard’s Aggressiveness

Phoenix Suns v Indiana Pacers Source:Getty

It was a slow start for Andrew Nembhard after dealing with kidney stones in the preseason. Then the Pacers second-year guard suffered a hyperextended knee that sidelined him for a couple of weeks. As of late, his efficiency as a shooter has improved. In seven games this month, Nembhard is shooting 50% on all his shots and 41.2% from three. He’s had four games with 10+ points, but if that can become more frequent, it will alleviate so much pressure off Haliburton to score and create. Nembhard’s success could keep Haliburton fresher for a playoff run.

9. Aaron Nesmith’s Health

Washington Wizards v Indiana Pacers Source:Getty

For the third time on my list of storylines, it’s another player’s health being something to monitor. On Tuesday morning on the Wake Up Call with KB & Andy, Rick Carlisle suggested that Nesmith’s ankle/shin injuries shouldn’t impact his long-term availability. He will miss their first game out of the break against Detroit, but there’s no clarity on when he will return. Indiana is 2-3 without Nesmith, but he’s such a critical piece to their defense. Without Nesmith, they’re giving up 123 points per game. Not to mention, he’s shooting 45.2% from deep, sixth best in the NBA. 

10. Jarace Walker

Indiana Pacers v Utah Jazz Source:Getty

The 2023 eighth overall pick has only played in 17 games this season. When you add up all the minutes from games he’s appeared in, it’s 173 minutes. Is there a chance that Carlisle starts carving out 10-15 minutes? If Obi Toppin is having a bad game, then does this allow Walker to get off the floor? It’s very odd to see a top-ten pick not crack the rotation consistently without being injured.

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