Earlier this season, the Indiana Pacers, thanks to the defense and the offensive rise of Paul George, looked like a potential dark horse to win the East. All of a sudden, the wheels are falling off, as fatigue and simply bad play are hurting this team badly, possibly even losing their second spot in the conference.

We’re hitting that point in the season. It’s a grind. Guys have played all season a heck of a lot more minutes than they’ve ever played before. It seems we’re a step slow in a lot of areas. We’ve got to grind through it. It’s a concern, not alarming.

What is a concern is the play of Roy Hibbert, who was outplayed by Spencer Hawes of the 76ers in a 91-98 loss in Philly a night after being destroyed by Dwight Howard in a home loss to the Lakers. Hibbert did score 25 points, but that happened on a dreadful 9-26 night, grabbing 7 offensive rebounds, most off of his own misses, which he still couldn’t convert.

Paul George did have an impressive stat line as well, scoring 18 points with 14 rebounds and 8 assists, but he shot only 6-17 from the field, making it five games out of the last seven in which George has been shooting 35% from the field or worse, which seemed to be the problem earlier in the season, before the Pacers looked like the team that might dethrone the NBA champions.

We just died on plays. It’s as simple as that.

The Pacers have now lost four of their last six, including to the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics, which kind of makes you wonder about how good they’ll be in the playoffs, as what coach Vogel says might be right – players like George, Hibbert, Lance Stephenson and George Hill are playing a lot more than they’re used to. Like many European players during their debut seasons in the NBA, they hit a certain wall after playing more minutes than they’ve been used to during their young careers.

It’s hurting on both ends of the floor, although the half-court offense from the Pacers has never been something children should watch without parental supervision. The worrying thing, the concerning element in all of this is their defense, and without playing the kind of defense they have all season, which means no easy points through transition, and not really finding a way into the paint through long arms and big bodies, it’s going to be hard even getting through the first round if its the Boston Celtics they have to play.

And then there’s David West, secretly the team’s most important player this season, despite not getting enough accolades. West has been very inconsistent offensively over the past couple of weeks, moving from 24 point nights to single digits the next day. Not finding a way to get him into some sort of better rhythm might be the worst thing currently happening to the Pacers offense, which looks like a lost tribe without a leader on too many possessions, causing them to lose games a team as good as they were earlier on really shouldn’t be dropping.

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