The Pacers have been the leaders in the Eastern Conference since the beginning of the season, but in the last few weeks they have begun to look less dominant just as the Miami Heat are starting to play their best basketball. Even though the Pacers are still the top team in the East as well as being the first NBA team to clinch a playoff berth, they are faltering at the wrong time of the season. This part of the season, right before the playoffs, is when good teams start to put it all together and play their best, like the Heat are currently doing. A two game losing streak is not exactly a call for panic in Indiana, but it is how they have played in wins and losses over the last few weeks that should have head coach Frank Vogel and fans concerned.
Last night the Pacers lost by 22 points to the Charlotte Bobcats. While Charlotte is not the bottom dweller they have been in recent history, the Bobcats are currently sitting in the seventh seed in the East; it is still not a game a championship contending team should be losing. Losing one game will not truly affect them in the long run but the major concern is their play since the All-Star break. In that span the Pacers have gone 6-3 but have played down to the level of their competition in some of those wins, which is something they were not doing in the early part of the season. Losing to the Bobcats and Timberwolves is alarming for the team with the best overall record in the NBA, but so is winning games by five points or less to the Jazz, Celtics and Bucks, three of the NBA’s worst teams.
Paul George has been the best player all season for the Pacers, but lately his play has started to decline. In last night’s unexpected loss, George had only two points on 0-9 shooting from the field; this is not the type of production expected from a proven star in the league. For the Pacers to make a deep run in the playoffs like they are hoping, their star will have to pick up his play. Since his best month of the season in December, George’s points per game, assists per game and field goal percentage have all declined with each coming month.
Being the top team in basketball for most of the season and getting every teams best effort every night certainly takes a toll on the body and makes it hard to play great every game, which could be what is happening to both George and the Pacers. The problem for the Indiana is that the team they are trying to knock off in the Miami Heat have experience in knowing when to coast and when to turn it on come playoff time. The inexperience of the Pacers to know how hard to push it in the regular season when they really need their energy for the playoffs could be the deciding factor if they are to meet the Heat in another Eastern Conference Final.
Whatever the reason for Indiana’s lesser play recently, it will need to be corrected before the start of the playoffs. It has been assumed all year that a Pacers Heat Eastern Conference Final is inevitable, but if the Pacers want that rematch they have been hoping for since losing in game seven last year, they will have to start playing better all around. So as the Pacers begin to feel the Heat, only time will tell if they can hold on to the one seed and eventually get a rematch with the Heat in the playoffs.
Commentary By Max Petkevicius