A few months ago, we were debating if Paul George was the third best player in the NBA. We were also discussing whether or not it would take seven games (or less) for his Indiana Pacers to dethrone the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Fast-forward to today and we’re just deciding if the Pacers are going to lose to the Chicago Bulls or the Brooklyn Nets in the second round of the playoffs.
It’s all been knee-jerk so far, as it often is in the NBA – and any sport for that matter.
However, is there substance to it? That was the question back in December, and it continues to remain the question in March, heading into April. This time around, though, it’s about the downward spiral that the Pacers are currently on.
Specifically, their last 12 games which have been pretty un-Pacer like. During that span, which started on March 4, Indiana is 5-7. Statistically, the Pacers are only 29th in offensive rating (averaging 98.1 points per 100 possessions), fifth in defensive rating (allowing 101.2 points per 100 possessions) and have the 21st worst net rating at minus-3.1.
Obviously, the offense is what has taken the biggest of hits during this recent decline. George – the Pacers leading scorer and normally a 22-point per game scorer – is only averaging 17.9 points per game during their recent slump, scoring 15 points or less in five of those games.
Roy Hibbert – who some view as the best center in all of basketball – is having a less than stellar March (or last 12 games).
However, what should be the most troubling is the fact that Hibbert’s numbers have been declining since December, specifically, his plus/minus is plummeting.
As a team, they carry an effective field goal percentage of 47.2, good for 27th in the NBA in the last 12 games, and a 52.3 percent total shot percentage – league average is around 55 percent. It’s usually not a great sign when you’re shooting below the league average in that category.
If you’re not all that into advance statistical analysis, I’ll make it simple: their generic field goal percentage is only 43 percent (26th in the NBA) and are only shooting 33 percent from three-point range (24th in the NBA). Overall, the Pacers are a minus-43 in their last 12 games – falling to teams like the Chicago Bulls, Memphis Grizzlies, New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Charlotte Bobcats and Golden State Warriors. In other words, games that they really have no business losing.
Now we analyze.
Is all this – their last 12 games – the tipping point of their season? Have they blown one of their proverbial tires? Have they just run out of gas? What is it exactly?
Maybe they’re exhausted. After all, they’ve been openly chasing that No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference all year long, and have little to show for it other than a 2 game lead over the Miami Heat. This is uncharted territory for the Pacers. Perhaps last year’s playoff performance against the Heat was a little premature. We were somewhat anointing George as the next great player in the NBA that we forgot what this team was all about: teamwork and playing off one another. Thus, if one is off then there’s a likelihood that the entire team may be off – especially when it comes down to players as critical to the team’s success as George and Hibbert are. It happens.
It’s obvious that this team needs a spark; the only question that remains is where they’re going to get it.
Perhaps after facing an old foe – the Miami Heat, who they face tonight.
Maybe they’ll get it from Andrew Byn… OK I couldn’t even finish that sentence. That ship has sailed.
However, a spark is needed. And if a tire change is needed, they need to hurry. I think tonight’s game against the Heat is going to be quite telling. Both teams are clearly struggling; it’s the perfect opportunity to prove to each other that, when push comes to shove, when they need to flip the switch, they can.
We’re about to find out how blown the Pacers’ tire really is. And if it is.
All Statistics courtesy of NBA.com