The only reason the Indiana Pacers are still in the lead of the Eastern Conference happens to be their rivals from Southeast suffering from a similar slump. But after losing to the Dallas Mavericks in what is now their fourth consecutive loss, it’s easy to agree on this being more than just a late season slump.
The Mavs beat the Pacers105-94. We might attribute this to the Pacers finally playing some rough teams in the West, on the road, following their awful performance in Houston. But they also lost at home to the Warriors who simply matched the physical styel on their won, and Indiana were later humiliated in Charlotte. There are many things that aren’t working as expected, but their defense suddenly becoming a lot easier to figure out has been the biggest problem
Through the first 59 games this season, the Pacers have allowd only 91.2 points, 41.5% shooting and 33.7% from beyond the arc. Through this four-game losing streak, they’ve allowed 106 points per game while teams have shot 48% from the field against them 46.5% from beyond the arc.
As James Harden said after Houston demolished them by 26 points, a lot of it has to do with playing faster. If the Pacers are allowed to set their defense early through the possession, it’s very hard to score against them, with West putting his body on someone, Hibbert clogging the lane while George, Hill and Stephenson go out to disturb the perimeter players. But quick ball movement forces Hibbert to step outside, and suddenly the long arms and big bodies the Pacers have don’t make all that of a difference, because they’re scrambling to get back into position.
The Mavs didn’t shoot exceptionally well. Dirk Nowitzki was only 3-of-14 from the field, scoring 14 points. Monta Ellis was good with 20, but nothing out of the oridanry. The difference was the excellent Devin Harris, the Mavs’ hot hand at the moment, scoring 20 points off the bench, and Shawn Marion, who on his good nights is an offsetting player because of his size and being used as a small forward, helping the Mavs create mismatches, especially when he’s shooting well (6-of-9 from the field).
But theres’s more to Indiana’s problems than just their defense being a bit out of focus. Last season they had a drop in March and April, as Vogel talked about the starting players not used to playing so many games and so many minutes. Fatigue, physical but mostly mental, might be what’s been getting to them once again. The Pacers got a total of four points from the bench: One point from Scola, one point from Turner, one point from Manhimi. This season they had such high hopes because of the improved bench, but it seems that there is still a problem when it comes to giving their starters, a different one each time, a bit of well deserved rest.
There’s time to fix it, and maybe this “rest” is something that will help the Pacers in more important games. But there’s a little bit of truth to every regular season slump that reveals a problem for a contending team. The question is will they be able to identify it and fix it in time.