For the most part, all of the excitement in the NBA this season has been isolated to the Western Conference and to the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat. The Eastern Conference did not have more than three teams with winning records a good way into the season, while the Western Conference has seven teams that have a winning percentage above .600. What was projected to be a historically bad season for the Eastern Conference has not turned out to be as bad as previously thought. Still, the only bright spots in the Eastern Conference have been the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat. On a weekly basis, the Indiana Pacers have consistently been ranked as the top teams in the NBA this season, and for good reason. The Pacers have one of the best defensive centers in the NBA in Roy Hibbert. The majority of key players on their team have been playing with each other for more than two seasons now, and they happen to be one of the best defensive teams in the NBA this season. Along with a great defense, the Pacers have Paul George, who, earlier this season, was thought to be a contender for the MVP with the likes of Lebron James and Kevin Durant.
As of late, however, the Pacers seem to have experienced a drop off, much like their star player Paul George did. The Pacers have lost seven of their last ten games, and many of those were not to teams that would be considered contenders this season. This last Sunday, the Pacers looked as bad as they ever have in a 107-88 loss to the lowly Atlanta Hawks, who are most definitely not a team that should be blowing out the Pacers like they just did. The Indiana Pacers have begun to freefall, and at the worst time of the season. The NBA playoffs begin before the end of April. In their last game, their star center, Roy Hibbert, was recently benched. These are not good signs for a team with such high expectations of giving the Miami Heat a run for their money (in what seemed like an inevitable clash of the Eastern Conference’s best teams in the conference finals in the playoffs). They need momentum heading into the playoffs, not disunity, because this is the time where teams have already played more than 70 games together. Teams are supposed to be gelling and finding a rhythm to build some steam heading into the toughest stretch of basketball.
The Pacers are 26th in the league in points-scored, but they are second in points-allowed, which for most of the season has not been a problem. But as of late, the Pacers have seemed listless, and to be one of the better defensive teams in the league, listless won’t suffice. To be successful the way the Pacers play, there needs to be an endless amount of energy and grit, because they just don’t have the type of offensive threats that can completely take over a game, like many elite teams do. The Pacers’ defense wins their games, while their offense keeps them in it. This last loss to the Atlanta Hawks, who are have a losing record and may not make the playoffs, doesn’t lend well to the excitement that was being felt by fans of the game who were itching to see a Heat-Pacers rematch in the Conference Finals, because if the Pacers continue to play the way that they have recently, they will be lucky to make it out of the first round.
Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks should serve as a wake up call to the sputtering Pacers, who have lost four of their last five games; otherwise, their downward trend may well carry into the playoffs, and the playoffs are no place to mend a team’s problems. It only serves as a place to expose them for all of the world to see. At the end of March, the Pacers found themselves ahead of the Heat in the Eastern Conference standings, which would ensure home court advantage and potentially decide the series if the two teams were to meet in the playoffs. Unfortunately, and understandably, the Pacers now find themselves a game behind the Heat, with only a handful of games left in the season. With a record of 53-25, the Pacers have been successful compared to other NBA teams, but in terms of their goal coming into the season, they are failing. The goal is to win a championship, and having the best record in the Eastern Conference would send a message to the two-time defending champion Heat and ensure home court advantage in the playoffs. With the way that the Pacers have been playing in their last ten games, they need home court now more than ever, especially considering that they are 34-6 at home, but only .500 on the road.