The Indiana Pacers lost their stride at the wrong time

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Indiana Pacers logoAfter taking the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat to a Game 7 during the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals and watching their rivals advance to eventually win the NBA Championship, the Indiana Pacers vowed that they would have the best regular season record in the Eastern Conference the following year including home court advantage throughout the 2014 playoffs.  The Pacers ultimately believed if they had the home court advantage a year prior, the conference finals would have ended in their favor.

The team improved their bench after adding Luis Scola and C.J. Watson in the offseason, and started the 2013-2014 season with a focus and determination to accomplish their goal by going undefeated during the first nine games and a 25-5 record at the end December.  Indiana looked like the team to beat not only in the East but the league in general. They were 46-13 on March 2, ( best in the league ) a game-and-a-half ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and two-and-a-half games ahead of the Heat.

The Pacers have gone 6-10 since, and though two of those wins came at the expense of Chicago Bulls and Miami, the other four wins against Boston, Detroit, and Philadelphia twice, weren’t exactly impressive.  The Pacers are 2-9 in their last 11 games against teams that are playoff contenders.

In an interview with the Indianapolis Star, the legendary Larry Bird, who’s the president of basketball operations for the Indiana Pacers said, “People ask me if I’m mad at them. I’m not mad. I’m disappointed.”  He should be disappointed.  The team has lost the focus required by a team headed into the playoffs.

Their hard-nosed defense has softened, with the Pacers allowing 94.0 points per game since March 4 (they had been giving up a league-best 91.2 points before that).  During the initial first three months of this season, the Pacers were a very stingy team on defense.  They kicked off the 2013-14 campaign by holding 10 of their first 16 opponents to underneath 90 points.

Another part of the Pacers strength was their unity, and that seems to be crumbling.  Indiana stopped sharing the ball altogether and the Pacers averaged just 88.1 points on 41.8 percent shooting in their last 16 games.  Resentments that had begun to develop even when things were going well have since boiled over.  There were concerns that All-Star small forward Paul George was getting too much of the Pacers’ credit, shooting guard Lance Stephenson would put his head down and drive to the basket instead of looking for teammates up the floor to make things happen, center Roy Hibbert was not getting the ball enough, and George Hill was not a championship caliber point guard.

Image Courtesy of Indiana Pacers

Image Courtesy of Indiana Pacers

After the Pacers recent loss to the Spurs at home, Hibbert had some choice words.  “Some selfish dudes in here,” Hibbert told reporters.  “Some selfish dudes. I’m tired of talking about it, we’ve been talking about it for a month. We play hard, but we’ve got to move the ball. Is it obvious, or what? I don’t know whatever our assist ratio, or whatever it is, is in the league, but it probably isn’t up there.”

“I’m really trying hard not to spaz out right now, but I don’t know…I’ve made suggestions before and we do it for, like, one game, and then we revert back to what we are. I don’t know. I’m not the one to answer that question. It directly affects me and the bigs. We’re just out there and it makes us look bad.”

To support Hibbert’s point, the Pacers rank 28th in assists, averaging 19.9 per game.  During their current 16-game slump, they are averaging just 17.9 per game.  Another sign the Pacers’ offence lacks flow is that they rank 22nd in offensive efficiency.

The Pacers have four games left before the end of the regular season and they have a very slim chance to overtake the Heat for the best record in the Eastern Conference, their ultimate goal is for home court advantage.  They have no one to blame but themselves for their recent tailspin.  Head coach Frank Vogel has to rally the team together and remind them about the “Blue Collar – Gold Swagger” theme they used last season.  The only way this team will be able to advance through the playoffs is with teamwork.

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