For the first few months of the season, the Indiana Pacers looked like a top NBA title contender. For the last few weeks, they've seemed more like a middling club. On Monday night, the Pacers hit what they must hope will be their rock bottom.
In a matchup that began with two conference leaders, the Pacers were pummeled by the surging San Antonio Spurs in a 103-77 home loss at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Spurs set a franchise record with their 18th consecutive win, but the Pacers are heading in the other direction. This game marked their third straight double-digit loss and their 10th loss in their last 16 games. In the process, they have also lost the top spot in the East for the first time in more than 150 days by virtue of having one more loss than the Miami Heat (although the teams are in a virtual tie, with the Pacers having played two more games).
Two of the team's key players appear to be less than ecstatic about Indiana's recent performances. Scott Agness of Pacers.com communicated several quotes from All-Star center Roy Hibbert and veteran forward David West on Twitter:
Hibbert on losing the No. 1 seed to Miami: "Good for them. We don't deserve it."— Scott Agness (@ScottAgness) April 1, 2014
Hibbert when I asked him about the postgame discussion in the locker room: "None of your business."— Scott Agness (@ScottAgness) April 1, 2014
David West: "We haven’t behaved like an elite team over the last month and a half or so, so we don’t deserve to be at the top."— Scott Agness (@ScottAgness) April 1, 2014
West: We barely recognize ourselves when we watch the film from months ago. …We’re at the bottom & we’ve gotta figure out a way to climb out— Scott Agness (@ScottAgness) April 1, 2014
What’s next?Roy: "Maybe we should all go to group therapy or something. Sit down with (team psychologist) Dr. Carr to air our grievances."— Scott Agness (@ScottAgness) April 1, 2014
These comments follow Hibbert's suggestion after Friday's loss to the Washington Wizards that several players on the team were acting selfishly, which doesn't speak well to the mood in the locker room right now. It appears that the team is in some crisis at the moment.
Yet, as our Kelly Dwyer pointed out on Monday, the Pacers do have some ways of figuring things out. While the playoffs start in a little more than two weeks, the first round figures to be comparatively unchallenging for the top two teams in the East, what with the seventh-place Charlotte Bobcats striking fear into few hearts and the Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks and (somehow) Cleveland Cavaliers struggling to figure out who can lose least to take the last spot by default. The Pacers clearly can't afford to take any team lightly right now, but they do have more wiggle room than their current form might suggest.
Ultimately, the best thing going for the Pacers might be that they have proven their ability to play at an elite level already this season. Given the form of the East this season, it's possible the team simply lost some passion or focus (understandable, if also unfortunate) in the long run-up to the playoffs. This perspective can be difficult in the middle of a run of bad form, but the mere fact the Pacers were able to beat the Heat last week indicates they can match up with elite competition when properly motivated.
Perhaps the Spurs, playing their best ball of the season, were simply too much handle. But the form of this loss and Indiana's fall from the top of the standings could serve as the kick in the rear that the team appears to need. If not, this negativity could fester into something a whole lot worse. For the sake of the franchise, its fans and anyone who wants to watch a more competitive postseason, let's hope they get it together soon.
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