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.

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