Sunday, April 13, 2014

This win changes everything for Pacers

The Pacers defeated the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder 102-97 Sunday afternoon. The Pacers are now 55-26 while the Thunder are 58-22. The Pacers are one half game ahead of the Heat for the top spot in the Eastern Conference with one game left to play. The Pacers do hold the tiebreaker against the Heat because of a better record in the conference. The Heat play at Washington Monday night and play host to Philadelphia Wednesday night. If the Heat lose at Washington, their game against Philadelphia and the Pacers Wednesday game at Orlando will be meaningless.
Lance Stephenson had his fifth triple-double of the season
in the Pacers' victory over the Thunder Sunday.
It's all different now. It's hard to dial up a better scenario for a team that had been struggling, still fighting for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, with the playoffs less than a week away. In any way shape or form, the Pacers needed a win over a good team in these final regular season days. Maybe the good news in this one, too, besides the obvious fact of the win, is that the Pacers were far from perfect yet still made key plays at key times to pull this one out. The Pacers reached 100 points or more for just the third time in 16 games. Their ball movement was the best it has been in quite sometime, even though it did lead to some turnovers that I'm sure were tough for everyone to watch. But it's true, as coach Frank Vogel said, that the turnovers were at least a sign the Pacers were trying to move the ball and that's certainly better than watching someone go one-on-one almost every time down the court. But maybe the best news in all of this, is that no matter what happened on the offensive end, is that the Pacers didn't let that influence how they played defense. And especially how they played defense against one of the better offensive teams in the league. To steal a line from the movie "Field of Dreams" this game reminded us of what once was good and that it can be again.
Big Plays
Well, where to start here? First, with the game tied at 89-89, Paul George came off a screen and hit a wide open 3-pointer to give the Pacers the lead for good with 2:09 left. He doesn't have to hit every shot he takes, but he has to hit those if the Pacers can entertain any kind of championship hopes. Then, you had David West make a key switch on the defensive end, and make a perfectly clean block on a Kevin Durant 3-point attempt when the Pacers were up 94-91. And finally, too, there was Lance Stephenson, with the shot clock running down on the possession after the West block. hitting a 3-pointer to put the Pacers up 97-91 with 34.2 seconds remaining. All necessary late plays to win this game.
The Ups
1) We'll start with C.J. Watson. During the Pacers' recent doldrums, one of the questions asked was if them missing the backup point guard for a stretch of 17 of 18 games before he returned against Milwaukee Wednesday was really that big of a deal. Well, it was hard to say for sure that it was, but it's hard to imagine the Pacers winning this game without Watson. He scored 20 points while hitting 4 of 7 3-pointers, and also had another traditional 3-point play. Yes, there was the obvious lift he gave them simply based on numbers, but the emotional boost that came with those 3-pointers also played a significant role in the outcome of this one. In an odd sort of way, the Pacers might not have been sure what they were missing with Watson when he couldn't play due to a bad hamstring. But they certainly know what they have now that he is healthy and available again.
2) Next you've got Lance Stephenson in this one with his league leading fifth triple-double of the year with 17 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. The good thing here is that the game was so close that whether he was going to get a triple-double or not didn't really matter. Maybe the best sign of all in this game was that after he hit his key 3-pointer, Stephenson ran back down the court and gave Vogel a low five. When Stephenson is having a fun and showing some confidence like that, he makes the Pacers a very difficult team to beat.
3) Let's not forget about David West in this game, too. West, along with having that key block, was efficient on offense, hitting 9 of 11 shots for 21 points. And maybe his biggest two points came on free throws with 8.3 seconds left that gave the Pacers a four-point lead. I've always said West is the Pacers best clutch player and it was no surprise to see him hit those free throws.
4) And finally, there was the bench frontcourt play of Luis Scola and Ian Mahinmi who combined for 21 points. With starting center Roy Hibbert struggling on offense, Mahinmi gave the Pacers 11 important points from the center position, hitting all four of his shots and adding five rebounds. Also, Scola continued his recent strong play with 10 points on 5 of 7 shooting and his ability to play productive extended minutes also helps keep West stretch for the later stages of the game.
The Downs
1) Well, yes, it seems a bit of miracle here that the Pacers beat such a good team with zero points from Hibbert, who was 0 for 9 from the field. It's clear the Pacers will need to get something from Hibbert on the offensive end in the playoffs if they want to reach the finals. I do give Hibbert's teammates credit for throwing the ball down to him when he had good post position. It was the right play to make, whether he made the shots or not, and making the right plays is still really important for this team if it wants to take steps forward.
2) Well, yes, about those turnovers. The Pacers had 23 of them and it's also amazing that they beat the Thunder with that many giveaways. However, the Pacers did shoot 53 percent, so here's the question you have to ask: Do you want the Pacers team that tries to move the ball around on offense and has a high turnover rate and high shooting percentage? Or do you want the team that stands around on offense and struggles to shoot 40 percent, but fewer turnovers? Well, the best answer is to move the ball without the turnovers, but make note of this, too: When an NBA team shoots 50 percent from the field, it almost never loses. So, for now, just live with the turnovers.
Next Up
The Pacers final regular season game before the playoffs which will begin for them either Saturday or Sunday, will be at Orlando in a 7 p.m. game. The Magic are (23-56) and play at Chicago on Monday. Orlando is led by Arron Afflalo at 18.2 points, Tobias Harris at 14.9 points and 7.1 rebounds, Nikola Vucevic at 14.2 points and 11 rebounds, former Indiana University star Victor Oladipo at 14 points and point guard Jameer Nelson at 12 points and seven assists. If the Pacers need this game to reach the No. 1 seed, it's not going to be easy for them. The Magic are playing their final game of the season in front of their fans and they will want to leave their fans and themselves with a good ending to what has been a rebuilding season.  The Pacers defeated 97-87 in Orland on Oct. 29, Orlando 88-79 at Indiana on Feb. 3 and 93-92 at Orlando Feb. 9. None of those games were easy wins by any stretch.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Heat cast more doubt on Pacers

The visiting Pacers lost to the Miami Heat 98-86 Friday night. The Pacers are now 54-26 while the Heat are 54-25. The win for the Heat gives them a one half game lead in the race for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Well, that was a disappointment. The Pacers looked like they were ready to make this a down to the wire type of game in the first half, but the Heat used a big early second half run to take control of this one. Maybe the Pacers starters need more rest. While it wasn't a bad idea by Coach Frank Vogel to not play them against Milwaukee, it still wasn't enough to snap the team out of its late season doldrums. In the early part of the second half, it looked as if the Heat defense knew exactly where the Pacers were going to pass the ball. And when the Heat get turnovers and LeBron James gets going toward the basket, it's a foul or an easy basket for Miami. Had Miami been playing well as of late, maybe this loss wouldn't have been so disturbing. But the Heat had lost three of their last four and were without one of their stars in Dwyane Wade in this one. So. what looked to be a break for the Pacers just confirmed that this team still is at least a little broken. Roy Hibbert (more on him later) and George Hill were virtually non-existent in the offense and that's not good against a team like the Heat. The fact that Hill did not even have a shot attempt is just one symptom of the predictability of the offense, at least against the Heat anyway. It also is a sign of the lack of scoring from inside, which didn't allow Hill to have any open looks. So, barring a miracle win against the Thunder Sunday, it looks like the Pacers will have the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. And if that happens, they won't have achieved one of their stated goals this season of earning the top spot in the event they need to play a seventh game at home against Miami in the Eastern Conference finals. But there still is some doubt if this version of the Pacers can even get to the Eastern Conference finals. And now, you have to wonder, if the Pacers need to win a seventh game on the road against the Heat, do they really believe they can? That's the biggest question of all.
Big Plays
This looked to be a competitive game for the first half, but the Heat went on a 20-2 run to start the second half to build a 65-44 lead and that was it. The Pacers did make a spirited 13-0 run to cut the deficit to nine early in the fourth quarter, but the Heat responded with an 8-0 run of their own.
The Ups
1) I thought the first half, the Pacers played with some confidence and shot the ball well and looked like they had a good plan against the Heat. Yes, the turnovers were an issue, but the Pacers were getting open shots and hitting as they shot 51 percent in the first half.
Paul George finished with 22 points, five rebounds
and five assists in Friday's loss to the Heat.
2) Don't blame Luis Scola for the Pacers recent struggles. After starting and playing well in Milwaukee Wednesday night, he came off the bench and played well again with 12 points and five rebounds. And if the Pacers aren't going to look at all to Hibbert on offense, you have to wonder if they are struggling to score in a playoff game if Vogel will go with Scola and West as his two big men on occasion. It may depend on matchups too, but if Scola continues to play well it's an idea that has to be considered.
The Downs
1) The Pacers need to get something, anything, from Roy Hibbert when they play the Heat. He went without a rebound and without a field goal attempt in the first half of this one, with just a free throw to show. The Heat put the shorter Udonis Haslem on him for much of the night, and it's a matchup where the Pacers should have had a clear advantage but did not. Hibbert's first field goal attempt didn't come until early in the second half and it was a miss. And then Hibbert's one rebound of the game came at the 2:20 mark of the fourth quarter, so at least he didn't get shutout in his 33 minutes of action.
2) The turnovers were an issue here again. The Pacers had 10 in the first half, and some of those were just careless and more than likely cost them the lead. Then they had four more in the third quarter which contributed to the game getting out of hand.
3) OK, three more stats to look at at here: 1) The Heat outscored the Pacers in the paint 44-26, had more second chance points at 16-5 and more fastbreak points at 18-7. The first two numbers are disconcerting because the Pacers have the size advantage up front and the Heat are the worst rebounding team in the league. Just not good signs folks, not good at all.
Next Up
The Pacers return home and play the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday afternoon in a 1 p.m. game. The Thunder are pretty much guaranteed the second best record in the West and in the league behind the Spurs as they are 58-21. The Thunder are led by league MVP candidate (and yes, he would get my vote) Kevin Durant at 32 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists. They also have Russell Westbrook at 21.7 points, 6.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds, Serge Ibaka at 15.2 points and 8.6 rebounds, Reggie Jackson at 13.3 points and 4.1 assists and Caron Butler at 9.8 points. The Thunder won the first meeting of the season 118-94.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Reserves answer the call in Milwaukee

The visiting Pacers defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 104-102 Wednesday night. The Pacers improved to 54-25 while the Bucks fell to 14-64 to almost guarantee them the worst record in the league. The Pacers are now also one half game ahead of the Miami Heat for the best record in the East.
Whether they would have won or lost Wednesday, I loved the fact that Pacers coach Frank Vogel gave the starters a night off for a lot of reasons. First, there was the simple matter of coming into Milwaukee and feeling the pressure of having to win against the league's worst team if the starters had played. Instead, the bench players would have the chance to seize an opportunity knowing they would be playing significant minutes. Second, sure the coach talked about the physical fatigue the starters may have, but lets not forget about the mental fatigue as well. Just not having to think about playing allowed them to let their guard down a little and is a good mental break for the team. And yes lastly, it gave the bench players a chance to get some confidence and also allowed Vogel to see how those players responded to certain situations. Because, there will likely be a playoff game where at some point one of those players, whether it be Evan Turner, Luis Scola or C.J. Watson will need to play a key role.
The Big Plays
Luis Scola had 24 points and nine rebounds
in Wednesday's win over the Bucks.
Well this one was easy as Chris Copeland capped an almost perfect shooting night for him by hitting the winning shot with 1.2 seconds left. And it was just as good to see the reaction of the regulars afterwards.
The Ups
1) We understand that one of the reasons the Bucks have the worst record in the league is that they are one of the worst defensive teams in the league. But the Pacers shot 48 percent from the field for the game, including hitting 11 of 24 from 3-point range. It was nice to see some decent offense for once.
2) The Pacers brought in Chris Copeland during the offseason to provide some offense and he certainly did that Wednesday night, hitting 7 of 8 from the field, including four of five from 3-point land to finish with 18 points. It was good to see somebody shoot the ball with confidence, like he knew the shot was going in as soon as it left his hand, as compared to standing there and hoping it would go in.
3) For the Pacers to win this game they needed good games from Evan Turner and Luis Scola, the two most skilled players on the bench (not including the injured Andrew Bynum) and they did deliver. Turner finished with 23 points, nine assists and seven rebounds and is also beginning to look more comfortable from behind the 3-point line as he hit three of four in this game. Then there is Scola, who finished with 24 points and nine rebounds and had his usual good energy throughout the game.
4) And lastly here, Donald Sloan may have had eight points and eight assists, but the best number for the point guard came in the turnover category with a zero.
The Downs
1) One player who didn't excel with the extra minutes was Rasual Butler, who hit just 3 of 14 shots from the field, including just 2 of 10 from 3-point range. But remember, too, that Butler's contribution to this team is far deeper than what the numbers in the box score show.
Next Up
The Pacers travel to Miami to play the Heat in a 7:30 p.m. game that will likely decide who gets the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference race. The Heat are 53-25 after losing at Memphis Wednesday night. The Pacers and Heat each have won at home, with the Pacers having a 2-1 series lead this season. Whoever wins this game will likely be the top seed in the East. The Heat are of course led by LeBron James at 27 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.4 assists. They also have Dwyane Wade at 19.2 points, Chris Bosh at 16.2 points and 6.7 rebounds and Mario Chalmers at 9.8 points and 4.9 assists and Ray Allen at 9.6 points. The Heat have had their struggles recently, too, going 1-3 in their last four games.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Pacers running out of time to regain form

The Pacers suffered what was their most embarrassing defeat of the season, 107-88 to the visiting Atlanta Hawks Sunday night. The Pacers are now 53-25 while the Hawks are 34-42. The Pacers are now a full game behind Miami for the top seed in the East and two games behind in the loss column.
Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse than losses on the road to Washington and Cleveland last week, well it got worse, a lot worse in this one. The Pacers scored a franchise low 23 points in the first half. For most of the last month and a half, it was easy to use excuses such as the Pacers are waiting on the playoffs to start, or that they are going through one of those tough stretches that any NBA team goes through from time to time during the 82-game season. But this is serious now. It's no longer safe to think the Pacers will have time to right their ship in a couple of early round playoff series. The question they and Pacers fans have to ask now is if they can even win a series. That's how bad it has become. The Pacers have now won just two of their last seven games. It's hard to say where this all started. Was with the acquisition of Andrew Bynum, who was so much of a cancer in Cleveland that they basically told him don't come around here no more? Was it with the departure of Danny Granger, who while certainly not the player he used to be, was still highly respected by his peers and may have had the right words to squelch such play before it became this much of a problem? Was it Evan Turner coming over from a win-challenged Philadelphia team being so accustomed to not doing the little things right and getting away with it that some of the others followed? Was it coach Frank Vogel having too much patience and being too much of a Mr. Positive guy when things started to go a little bad? Maybe it's a little bit of all those things. The big question now is if the Pacers can get it fixed. The answer is, nobody really knows and that's a scary thought with the playoffs less than two weeks away.
The Big Plays
How about these: The Hawks were up 9-0 and then 17-3. Their lead was never under double digits after that.
The Ups
The Pacers' Roy Hibbert did not have a point or rebound Sunday.
1) I thought Vogel taking out the starters at the six minute mark when they had worked the deficit to 17-3 was a move that has been in some ways long overdue. It was without question a risk because a coach doing that at the professional level may well be in danger of losing his team's respect. But at this point it was a risk Vogel had to take. The lack of attention to detail and the knack for not getting to loose balls first has been going on way too long. Hopefully it will get the attention of all the Pacers. Whether it works or not, who knows? But Vogel had to try something.
The Downs
1) The first one here is obvious and easy. The 23 points in the first half included 20 percent shooting and just one assist in the half. Sure, there were a few easy missed shots. But there was a lot more one-on-one play, too.
2) I've long been a Roy Hibbert fan, but the zero points and zero rebounds in nine minutes, that speaks for itself.  Hibbert didn't play in the second half and Vogel said it was because the center needed rest. Something tells me that was just part of the truth, but just the guys inside the locker room know that for sure. The fact that Hibbert declined comment after the game was also disappointing.
Next Up
The schedule maker can't do the Pacers any better favor than it did in
this one with a game at Milwaukee at 8 p.m. Wednesday. The Bucks have the worst record in the league at 14-63. The Pacers defeated the Bucks 110-100 on Feb. 22, 101-96 on Feb. 27 and 104-77 on Nov. 15, back when the Pacers used to blowout bad teams. The Bucks are led by Brandon Knight at 17.5 points and 4.9 assists, Ramon Sessions at 12 points a game, Khris Middleton at 11.8 points, O.J. Mayo at 11.7 points, Ersan Illyasova at 11.2 points, John Henson at 11 points and 7.2 rebounds and Jeff Adrien at 10.7 points and 7.2 rebounds in 23 games for the Bucks.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Pacers finally find their way in win

The Pacers defeated the visiting Detroit Pistons Wednesday night 101-94. The Pacers are now 53-23 while the Pistons are 27-48. The Pacers are now 34-5 at home after breaking a three-game losing streak overall.
It's just hard to tell how much this game means in terms of playing better because the Pistons have been rising on the tank-meter (losing to get a better draft pick) lately. However, with the way Pacers had been playing, losing three straight and five of six and shooting below 40 percent from the field in six straight games, just getting a win by any means is positive step. The hopes here were that if the Pacers had really turned the corner, they would at some point take control of this game and pull away in the second half and go on to an easy victory. That didn't happen here, but at least a loss didn't happen either and for the moment that's the most important thing.
Big Plays
There were some stretches in this one where we saw the Pacers of pre-all-star break form, sharing the ball, and finding the open man, especially late in the second half when Lance Stephenson led a key run to get the Pacers into the lead. The big shot though was about a 35-footer by Paul George with just over three minutes left that gave the Pacers a four-point lead. The only reason he shot the ball was because the shot clock and mistakenly not reset and he thought the Pacers were in danger of a violation. But these days, who's complaining.
The Ups
Paul George had 27 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists
as the Pacers broke a three-game losing streak.
1) We always like to say that basketball is a team game and that not too much should fall on one player. But if the Pacers want to go far in the playoffs, and by that I mean beat the Heat, they're going to need a confident Paul George. They got that in this game with George scoring 27 points on 9 of 19 shooting, grabbing 13 rebounds and handing out seven assists. The Pacers are capable of winning when George has an off night, but their chances are much better when George is assertive like he was in this one.
2) We don't know when or if Andrew Bynum will play again, but Ian Mahinmi filled the reserve center role quite nicely in this game. He finished with 10 points, five rebounds and three blocks and gave the Pacers a nice boost when Roy Hibbert went down with an injury after a hard fall to the floor in the second quarter.
3) After topping out at 84 points in the previous six games, including not reaching 80 in five of those, the Pacers seemed to remember how to shot and pass in this one. I thought maybe the scoreboard didn't reach triple digits any longer. But in this game, the offensive spacing was better, players cut to the basket on occasion, and the screens were more crisp than they have been in recent games. The spacing here is especially important because in the NBA players are taller and more athletic than at any other level. So, if the offense is bunched even a little too much, the defense has the ability to recover. The result was the Pacers shot just under 50 percent from the floor in this one at 39 of 79 from the field.
The Downs
1) While things were better in this game, it's also important to remember the Pistons came into this one not playing well at all. I can't help but think that earlier in the season the Pacers would have won a game against this kind of of team by 20-plus points. So, while it's OK to feel good about a win, to come out and say all of the problems the team has had in the last month plus are suddenly fixed is not true either. There were still errant post passes and there were still times the defense gave up the baseline and there were still times when the Pistons were beating the Pacers to loose balls. So yes, still plenty to work on, but at least they can do after a victory for once.
Next Up
The Pacers visit the Toronto Raptors in a 7 p.m. game Friday. The Raptors are 43-3) and are fighting for the fourth best record in the East as they aretied with the Bulls after Wednesday night's games
. The Raptors started the season a slowly, but have played well since trading Rudy Gay. The Pacers defeated the Raptors 91-84 in Indianapolis back on Nov. 8, lost to the Raptors in Toronto 92-85 on Jan. 1 and then defeated the Raptors back in Indianapolis 86-79 on Jan. 7. The Raptors are led by DeMar DeRozan at 22.7 points, Kyle Lowry at 17.4 points and 7.6 assists, Terrence Ross at 10.8 points, Amir Johnson at 10.8 points and 6.8 rebounds, Jonas Valanciunas at 10.7 points and 8.6 rebounds and Patrick Patterson at 9.5 points.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Spurs remind Pacers of who they were

The Pacers lost to the visiting San Antonio Spurs 103-77 Monday night. The Pacers are now 52-23
while the Spurs are 58-16. The Pacers are now one game behind in the loss column to the Miami Heat for the top spot in the East. It's the first time the Pacers have not held the top spot this season having lost five of their last six.
Pacers center Roy Hibbert had 15 points
in Monday's loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
This may sound crazy and all, but it was really the perfect time to the play the Spurs, right now the hottest team in the league after extending their franchise record winning streak to 18 games. But here's why it was best to play them now. If the Pacers had come home and played a bad team, and played just OK and won by 8 or 10 points, then it would give the false sense of security that everything is fine and they can just continue on throughout the end of the regular season. But the Spurs, well,  if you have a weakness they will find it and expose it. And that they did Monday night. Some of the things were quite obvious. Like, when the led-footed Boris Diaw drove the lane from the wing and four Pacers just stood there and watched as he got a layup. Diaw is still a decent player, but Tony Parker he is not. Then, too, the Spurs often sent cutters to the basket that were found for layups. Remember when the Pacers used to do that? On the offensive end, there was actually some improvement in areas, but still the Pacers team that relied on movement and cutting to the basket and only one-on-one situations when the shot clock was running down was still pretty much missing. So, yes, the Pacers have a lot of problems now. It's like they've forgotten who they were in the first half of the season. The Spurs were a good reminder of who the Pacers once were and hopefully can become again.
The Big Plays
The Pacers were within 17-15 early on, and then the Spurs went on a 17-0 run through the end of the first quarter and into the second quarter and that was pretty much it. The Pacers did get the Spurs lead down to seven late in the third quarter, but there was never a serious threat to over throw the reigning Western Conference champions.
The Ups
1) The one thing I did like in this game was a concerted effort the Pacers made to get the ball into Roy Hibbert on offense. Hibbert wasn't great by any measure, 5 of 13 from the field for 15 points. But in terms of getting ready for the playoffs, it's the offensive commitment the Pacers need to make. We can't forget too that Hibbert is a good passer, so not only will that help Hibbert get more comfortable and find his rhythm around the basket, it may also breed movement away from the ball, something the Pacers have done very little of in the last month plus.
The Downs
1) There's all kind of reasons to like David West, and I still do, but he seems either a bit tired or just is kind of running through the motions. Those screens at the top of the key aren't nearly as crisp as they used to be. Sure, some of it is on the guard who is handling the ball to make better use of the that screen, but the defenses see it coming now and there's been no adjustment, or shall we say commitment, to do what has worked for much of the season.
2) The other big issue that popped up in this game was allowing offensive rebounds. The Spurs had 15 of them in this game. On several occasions the Pacers initial defense was solid, but you can only give up so many of those before it becomes a bit disheartening. The Pacers were kind of in that "I thought you had it" mode, instead of the "I'll get it" mode. Never a good mindset to have with the playoffs quickly approaching.
Next Up
The Pacers play again Wednesday when the play host to the Detroit Pistons in a 7 p.m. game. The Pistons are 26-47 and most recently became known as the team to stop the Philadelphia 76ers 26-game losing streak Saturday night, losing to the Sixers in Philadelphia. The Pacers rallied from 25 down to defeat the Pistons 112-104 in overtime back on March 15. The Pacers defeated the Pistons 99-91 back on Nov. 5 and then lost to the Pistons in Indianapolis 101-96 on Dec. 16. The Pistons are led by Josh Smith at 16.2 points and 7 rebounds, Brandon Jennings at 15.7 points and 7.7 assists, Greg Monroe at 14.9 points and 9.2 rebounds, Rodney Stuckey at 13.4 points, Andre Drummond at 13 points and 12.7 rebounds and Kyle Singler at 9.4 points.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Passive Pacers can't push right buttons right now

The visiting Pacers lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers 90-76 Sunday afternoon. The Pacers lost their fifth straight on the road and fell to 52-22 on the season. They are now even in the loss column with the Miami Heat as they each battle for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Cavaliers improved 30-45 on the season.
Paul George had 15 points, seven rebounds, five
assists and four steals in Sunday's loss.
This may have been the worst loss of the season for the Pacers. First, it came after a loss at Washington Friday, which one would hope was a bit of a wake-up call to the team. It wasn't that they lost to Washington, a team that is fighting for playoff position, it's that the Pacers never were really close in that game. So, one would think Cleveland was showing up on the schedule at the right time. The Cavaliers were without their best player in all-star Kyrie Irving, so one would also think with a little effort and a little execution on offense, this would pretty much be a win. But now it pretty much is a reason to hit the panic button. It's not as if this is one bad game that cropped up in the midst of a long NBA season. This has been going on for a while. The Pacers shot below 40 percent for the fifth straight game. They have scored 100 or more points just three times in 17 games in March. They have scored about 80 just once in the last five games, that happened to be 84 in the win against the Heat, their only win in those last five games. For most of this stretch, even when the Pacers have not played well, the consensus has been that it's OK, they won't have to be at their best in the opening rounds of the playoffs to win and advance until they presumably meet the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. But a game like Sunday's now brings that assumption into question. If the Pacers play a better Brooklyn team or an improved Toronto team, it's not safe to say their going to win the seven-game series. I think they still would, but instead of being 95 percent sure about it, now it's close to 75 percent sure, or maybe a little less than that. But the problem here is that it's hard to say if the Pacers are sure how they will perform in the playoffs right now. Time is running out to get ready for the postseason. The arrow has been trending down for a while with the Pacers. They've got eight games left to reverse that trend and instead of wondering "when" that will happen, we unfortunately must ask "if" that will happen.
The Big Plays
The Pacers were down just 35-34 after a Chris Copeland 3-pointer and Donald Sloan layup midway through the second quarter. But the Cavs ended the half on a 14-2 run. The Pacers did go on a 7-0 run to cut the gap to six on three occasions midway through the third quarter. But when Spencer Hawes hit a 3-pointer to put the Cavs up 59-49 with 5:03 left in the third, sadly, the Cavs lead was never under double digits for the rest of the game.
The Ups
1) The Pacers are still one game ahead of the Heat for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. So, there's that.
The Downs
1) There could be a lot of things to put in this category, but one here really sticks out. The Pacers were 5 of 10 from the line in the first quarter (forget the poor percentage there just for a second). Then, they only went to the line one time in the next two quarters. The lack of free throw attempts is not a commentary on the officials. It says the Pacers were just settling for whatever shots that came their way instead of working through some kind of offense or at the very least being aggressive and taking the ball at the defense to draw the fouls. It was just another sign of how the Pacers are a very passive team right now.
Next Up
The Pacers play host to the San Antonio Spurs Monday night. It was back on Dec. 7 that the Pacers went to San Antonio and beat the Spurs 111-100 in a game that was only that close because of spirited Spurs late rally. It was probably the best game the Pacers have played this season. Well, now the Spurs come into the game with the best record in the league at 57-16 and are on a league season-high 17 game winning streak. So, no time to waste here if the Pacers want to get things back on track. The Spurs are led by
point guard Tony Parker at 17 points and six assists, Tim Duncan at 15 points almost 10 rebounds, Manu Ginobili and Kahwi Leonard each at 12.4 points, Marco Bellinelli at 11.7 points, Patty Mills at 9.9 points and Boris Diaw at 9.3 points.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Pacers have no magic in loss to Wizards

The visiting Pacers lost to the Washington Wizards 91-78 Friday night. The Pacers are now 52-21 while the Wizards are 37-35.
Paul George had a tough night hitting just six of 22 shots from the field.
This had all of the makings of a let down game after Wednesday's big win over Miami for the Pacers and it sure turned out that way. It was OK to win ugly against the Heat and it actually would have been OK to win ugly against the Wizards. But instead, it was just ugly. Period. The tone was set early when the Pacers had seven turnovers in the first quarter and shot just under 35 percent. It would have been even worse if Luis Scola had not gone 4 of 6 from the field. So, it was a disappointing effort all the way around. Those big time third quarters where the Pacers just used to take over games now seem like a thing of the distant past. The Wizards outscored the Pacers 30-19 in the third and that was pretty much the game.
The Ups
1) Not many good things here. Donald Sloan did come off the bench and score seven points. Roy Hibbert had five blocked shots. There was 12-0 run in the later stages of the second quarter to cut the lead to four. But that was really about it.
The Downs
1) Wizards center Martin Gortat is a decent player, but when he goes for 17 points and 12 rebounds and Hibbert goes for eight points and two rebounds, no matter what the blocked shots are, that's just not a good thing. Hibbert needs to play like he's playing the Heat every night, I guess.
2) Let's just do a little roll call here: Paul George 6 of 22 from the field five turnovers; Evan Turner zero points; Lance Stephenson was 3 of 13 from the field, but he did get 14 rebounds, so there was that.
3) The Pacers never led in this game. Not once.
Next Up
The Pacers come back home Sunday and play host to Cleveland in a 3 p.m. game. The Cavs have struggled throughout this season. They Cavs are 29-45 after losing Friday night at Brooklyn.
The Cavs had won three straight before Friday even though they have been without top scorer in Kyrie Irving, who is averaging 21.2 points and 6.2 assists, for the last six games due to a biceps injury. The Cavs also have Dion Waiters at 15.3 points, Luol Deng at 14.7 points, Spencer Hawes at 13.8 points and 8.4 rebounds, Tristan Thompson at 11.6 points and 9.2 rebounds and C.J. Miles at 9.9 points.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Pacers step forth in fourth to beat Heat

The Pacers defeated the visiting Miami Heat 84-83 Wednesday night in a battle of the top two teams in the East. The Pacers are now 52-20 overall and 33-4 at home while the Heat are 48-22. The teams have one more regular season head-to-head meeting remaining on April 11 in Miami. The Pacers also clinched the Central Division title with this win.
If there was any better example of why the Pacers need to have the best record in the East and earn the No. 1 seed and homecourt advantage presumably against the Heat in the Eastern Conference, it was this game. The Pacers were down seven to start the fourth quarter and to be honest, that kind of deficit against Miami on the road would have been hard to overcome. But the Pacers did overcome it this time and being at home was certainly one reason for that. This was pretty much the type of game that most expected. Not a lot of easy shots, and some pretty physical play from both teams. The good news for the Pacers is that style points didn't really matter in this win. Just finding a way to get it done is what mattered. It now puts them in prime position to claim that No. 1 seed in the East, something they've talked about wanting since the beginning of the year. It's right there for them to take now.
The Big Plays
Paul George had a key dunk in the fourth quarter
to help the Pacers comeback and beat the Heat.
There were quite a few in this game. First you had Paul George's drive past Lebron James and dunk early in the fourth quarter that cut the lead to one. Then, late in the fourth quarter and the Pacers down one, Evan Turner wanted the ball and made a nice move to beat Mario Chalmers for the basket at the 1:30 mark to give the Pacers the lead for good. And finally, too, on the Pacers next to last possession in the final minute, David West hit a step back 3-pointer with 50.2 seconds left to give them a four-point lead. West has been a clutch shooter for the Pacers all year, so while some might have been shocked that he made that shot, those of who watch the Pacers know West has delivered in key situations all year.
The Ups
1) One big advantage the Pacers have against the Heat is center Roy Hibbert. So, it was good to see the Pacers establish Hibbert's inside game early on as he scored seven points in the early going, hitting four of his first five shots. Hibbert responded well in the rest of the game too and finished with 21 points on 7 of 15 shooting.
2) The Pacers defense was pretty good most of the night, but it was especially good in the fourth quarter. The Heat hit just 4 or 13 shots in the quarter and had seven turnovers. The Heat can say what they want, but the Pacers' defense had something to do with their inefficient offense.
3) When Lance Stephenson was ejected for his second technical (we'll get to that in a minute), it forced Turner into the game for the final minutes of the fourth quarter. And really, there had to be some question on how he would perform in a real pressure situation. He had not been in many of them in the past couple of seasons in Philadelphia. But Turner responded just fine, hitting two key baskets late and scoring six points in all in the fourth quarter. They were all big baskets and hopefully a bit of confidence boost for Turner and for his teammates to know they can depend on him in late-game situations.
The Downs
1) Yes, it's true Stephenson did get two technical fouls and was ejected after the second one. The problem was of course the second one, after he made a basket and said something to Dwyane Wade on the way past him. Wade, being the veteran he is, sold the situation to the refs and the whistle blew for the second technical. There were all kinds of things wrong with the play. First, yes, Stephenson needs to be aware of his situation and importance to the team and just not even come close to getting a technical. Second, if Wade had not sold it, I don't think the officials would have called it. So, it's not good when the officials give the appearance that a player talked them into a call. And third, I agree with ESPN announcer Jeff Van Gundy in that for a player to be thrown out of a game, it should take a lot more than what Stephenson did in that situation.
2) The Pacers, save for Turner's eight points, pretty much got nothing from their bench. Even with Turner's output, the only other points were two from reserve center Ian Mahinmi. Overall, the bench hit just five of 20 shots from the field, and that includes Turner's 4 for 10. The bench doesn't have to carry them in these games, but it does have to give the Pacers a little more than that. 
3) George Hill is one of the game's really good guys. One of the guys you want to see do well. But he's got to hit those two free throws with 2.3 seconds left instead of missing them both. He just has to hit them if this happens again in the playoffs, and it very well might.
Next Up
The Pacers play next at Washington in a 7 p.m. game on Friday. The Wizards are 36-35 and currently sit in the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, so unlike previous late season games in recent years, they have plenty to be playing for now. The Wizards lost three of four on a recent road trip before returning home Wednesdsay and losing to Phoenix. The Wizards are led by point guard John Wall at 19.8 points and 8.8 assists, shooting guard Bradley Beal at 17.2 points, including shooting 41.8 percent from 3-point range, Trevor Ariza at 14.9 points and 6.4 rebounds, Marcin Gortat at 12.8 and 6.9 rebounds, Drew Gooden at 10.6 points and Martell Webster at 10.2 points. The Wizards will be without starting center Nene, who hasn't played since Feb. 23 due to a sprained medial collateral ligament. In earlier meetings this season, the Pacers won at Indiana 93-73 on Nov. 29 and 93-66 on Feb. 10, back in the salad days when they overwhelmed teams with their defense.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Pacers offense offensive in loss to Bulls

The visiting Pacers lost to the Chicago Bulls 89-77 Monday night. The Pacers are now 51-20 while the Bulls are 40-31.
Any one who follows either the Pacers or the Bulls knew this game had a chance to be an ugly one offensively. And for most of the first half it was much that way, with the Pacers leading 34-33 at the break. But the biggest disappointment in this one is that the Pacers allowed 31 points to the sometimes offensively challenged Bulls in the third quarter and 56 points in the second half. It's not an embarrassment to lose to the Bulls in Chicago, but you shouldn't allow a Bulls team that is without Derrick Rose to score 30 or more points in any quarter. It was frustrating to watch too as the Pacers flirted with getting with in a possession of taking the lead a couple of times, but could never get there.
The Big Play
This came midway through the third quarter. The Pacers, thanks to two straight Lance Stephenson three point plays, one traditional, one from behind the 3-point line, had just cut the Bulls lead to six points. Then Paul George came up with a steal and was on a breakaway. Expecting to him rise up and maybe even dunk the ball over Kirk Hinrich, George took a step and looked like he stepped in quicksand, allowing Hinrich to block the ball with two hands and the Bulls quickly got the lead back up to 10.
The Ups
George Hill was one of the few Pacers to
play well Monday night in Chicago.
1) George Hill has had his ups and downs this season, but he was solid in this one. Hill made what looked to be a big basket at the end of the half when the Pacers ran their three-man weave play in closing seconds. Hill, instead of handing off to Lance Stephenson as is the usual play, kept it and found himself wide open for a 3-pointer and hit it to end the half. Hill also did not have a turnover in this game. Hill finished with 17 points on 6 of 10 shooting.
2) The Pacers did hit 19 of 21 free throws for the game. So there's that.
The Downs
1) Yes, it's true the Bulls are one of the best defensive teams in the league and were sure to make some adjustments between Friday's game, a Pacers win, and Monday's game. But there were often times where the Pacers offense was very much out of sync in this one. The Pacers shot just 36 percent overall and an offense that was based on ball movement Friday night, had way too much one-on-one action in this one. The Pacers had 27 assists Friday and just 10 Monday. The Pacers have offensive problems and the Bulls exposed them to full measure in this one.
2) That Evan Turner choosing to go under the screen thing on defense, instead of in front of it, cost the Pacers again as the Bulls' Kirk Hinrich used the extra space to hit a 3-pointer. I tried to jump through the TV screen and tackle Turner,  (as I said I would do in my last post) but it didn't go well either.
Next Up
The Pacers play one of their biggest games of the regular season when they play host to the Miami Heat in a 8 p.m. game Wednesday against the defending champion Miami Heat. The Heat are just one game back of the Pacers for the lead in the Eastern Conference after defeating Portland Monday night. The teams split their two games earlier this season, with each winning at home. Both teams have struggled a bit as of late, with the Heat sometimes losing on the same night the Pacers do. The Heat have been led as expected by Lebron James at almost 27 points, 7 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game. They also have Dwyane Wade at 19 points per game, Chris Bosh at 16.6 points and 6.8 rebounds, Ray Allen at 9.7 points and Mario Chalmers at 9.5 points. Indianapolis native center Greg Oden has returned to NBA action with the Heat this season, too. He averages three points and 2.3 rebounds, playing nine minutes a game.