At the start of the season, everyone expected the Indiana Pacers to make some noise around the NBA. After all, they pushed the Miami Heat to the limit in the conference finals last year. At one point the Indiana Pacers made good on their promise by having the league’s best record for most of the year; however, to say they are currently in trouble and have been ever since the beginning of March is an understatement. As a result, they need to shape up; otherwise they will get upset in the playoffs.
It is not uncommon for a team to fall immediately after the All-Star break. After all, it makes perfect sense as it is a four or five day period that can easily destroy a team’s momentum. The weird thing for the Pacers is that they were still playing well for seven games or so after the break; however, instead they have hit a major wall with a terrible March.
Before March, the Pacers had a league best 45-14 record, and as a result they seemed to be unbeatable. However, ever since their loss to the Warriors on March 4, the Pacers have put up an abysmal 7-9 record that has them looking like a struggling team. Worse yet, after last night’s loss to the 30-45 Cleveland Cavaliers, Indiana has lost four of its last five games, with the one win ironically going against the Miami Heat.
It is the Heat though that should worry the Pacers. All season, Indiana has been ahead of Miami, but as it currently stands, the Pacers are 52-22 whereas Heat are 50-22. This of course means that Indiana has only two more wins, which is even deceiving as they have also played two more games than their conference rivals. As a result, the Pacers need to turn into the team they were the first 3/4 of the season; otherwise, they will lose home court advantage to their nemesis.
So the question of course is why have the Pacers been losing? Well, it starts at what the Pacers’ weakness is and has been all season — offense. They have one of the worst offenses in the league, sitting at 23rd in ppg, 17th in field goal percentage, 23rd in three-point field goal percentage, 12th in turnovers and an astounding 28th in assists. Those are not stats to be proud of, and they especially are not stats that are going to help win the team a championship.
They never have been the best offensive team in the league; however, a player like Paul George was rumored to be an MVP candidate early in the season where he was scoring at will. He still is averaging 21.7 ppg; however, he also is only shooting 42 percent per game, one of the worst on the team. Worse yet, in his last 10 games he has been averaging 34.6 percent, which is even worse than it sounds considering he had 60 percent the last game against the 76ers. As a result, George who was a surprise for the Indiana Pacers in the playoffs last year, appears to have lost his touch, which spells trouble for the squad who are on the verge of falling apart.
He is not the only one though. They only have two guys averaging close to 50 percent in Lance Stephenson (49.1 percent) and David West (48 percent) along with an underutilized offensive player in Luis Scola (46.2 percent).
One thing that many commentators and coaches around the league have always said is that a team cannot win a championship without defense. Well, in the case of the Pacers they are proving that a team cannot win without offense either. There is no way they can win against big guns like the Heat and Thunder in the playoffs without an at least decent offensive game.
It of course is not all bad for the Pacers. They have been and continue to be the best defensive team in the NBA, allowing only 91.7 ppg, fifth in bpg and fifth in rpg. This is what has the Pacers in the game. What they do is suffocate their opponents making it incredibly difficult for teams to score. This of course is led by their anchor Roy Hibbert who is averaging 2.4 bpg.
While Hibbert has been a successful blocker this season, he has been an overall disappointment considering he is a guy that can be a beast that is impossible to stop when he wants to be. However, he is only averaging 11.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg and 44 percent shooting, very low numbers for a center. Hibbert can be a difference maker for the Pacers as he is one of the biggest guys in the league; however, if he does not play like it by not rebounding or scoring over smaller guys, Indiana is going to have trouble.
Hibbert should not be singled out though. David West is not having a remarkable year as he should, nor is starting point guard George Hill. One move the Pacers made they thought would help is acquiring controversial center Andrew Bynum. Miraculously, he played well in his first few games, averaging 11.5 ppg and 9.5 rpg; however, the injury bug hit him and is out indefinitely and may not play the rest of the season.
The problem right now for the Pacers is that they do not have much time left. They have eight games left this season, and if they want to contend for a championship, they need to start playing like it now. It is not going to be easy either. Tonight they play the Spurs who are on a seventeen-game winning streak. Additionally, they will have games against the Raptors, Thunder and their nemesis Heat, which may be decided who sits atop the conference.
The excuses are over for the Indiana Pacers. What started as a fluke has become a harsh reality for the Indiana Pacers who are in trouble as they have been on a downward spiral. It is not impossible, but they need to start playing like the championship-bound team they acted as, and the only way they do that is by improving their offense. If they do not improve their offense, they will see an early exit in a season where anything less than a championship is a failure.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey