Coming into the first play-in game in NBA history, the Indiana Pacers were counted out by most fans and media experts. Even Charles Barkley guaranteed that the Charlotte Hornets would knock off the Pacers, especially following the news that Caris LeVert would miss the game due to health and safety protocols. Well, the experts were wrong and the Pacers throttled the Hornets by a final score of 144-117.

Needless to say, this was an eye-opening performance from Indiana. They have a ton of talent on the roster, even without LeVert, but they have not shown that potential throughout the majority of the season.

Indiana finished the regular season with a 34-38 record, which placed them No. 9 in the Eastern Conference. From injuries to rumors about head coach Nate Bjorkgren being hated in the locker room, the Pacers have struggled all year long. However, their performance against the Hornets proved that they could be a big-time sleeper in the East.

During the regular season, the Pacers struggled against the Hornets. The last time the two teams faced each other on April 2nd, the Hornets completely outworked and outplayed Indiana. Obviously, the Pacers found some pride and came out looking to prove a point.

All of that being said, let’s take a closer look at Indiana and why they could be a sleeper in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Why The Pacers Could Be A Big Eastern Conference Sleeper

In order to work their way into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed with a chance to face off against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Pacers will have to defeat the Washington Wizards. They lost all three regular season matchups to the Wizards and struggled to contain Russell Westbrook. But, if the Pacers come out like they did against the Hornets, they have a very good chance to win the game.

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Domantas Sabonis has become a legitimate superstar and is one of the most talented big men in the entire NBA. While he is without a doubt the best player on the Pacers, he only scored 14 points on 7-for-15 shooting against Charlotte and the team still dominated.

When Indiana is clicking on all cylinders, they are an extremely dangerous basketball team. If they play with chemistry, they can beat anyone. Not to mention, they played as well as they did with Malcolm Brogdon coming back after missing 10 games and Edmond Sumner also coming back from an injury that kept him out for awhile.

Doug McDermott is an elite three-point shooter and showcased that ability in the Hornets by knocking down four of his six three-point attempts. Oshae Brissett has come in and proven himself as a starter and scored 23 points on 10-for-14 shooting.

Both McDermott and Brissett have become major key players for the Pacers, but they aren’t the only depth pieces around Sabonis and Brogdon that are playing well. TJ McConnell has had a career season as well and scored 17 points to go along with five rebounds, four steals, and three assists against the Hornets. Kelan Martin has also been playing extremely well late in the year and scored 14 points off the bench for the Pacers.

Indiana has a very deep roster and they are all capable of coming in and playing a big role. Sabonis doesn’t have to score 25 points every single night for this team to win. If they play together, they are a team that could make some noise.

We are not predicting that the Pacers are absolutely going to beat the Wizards and give the 76ers a run for their money. But, the way that they played against the Hornets showed off some of their potential. If Indiana continues playing like that, they could shock the NBA.

Expect to see the Pacers bring everything they have once again against the Wizards. They have a tall task ahead of them trying to contain Westbrook and Bradley Beal, but they are capable of winning big and competing hard if they play together.