In a week where the Pacers became the first team in the NBA to clinch a playoff spot, the mood has suddenly become much more somber for fans in Indiana. On a current three-game losing streak, the Pacers have not looked like the same team that has led the East throughout most of the season. After all, this certainly isn’t the look of a team that has 13/5 odds to win the NBA Championship.
Last Tuesday the Pacers had a gritty game against a young Golden State team that ended as 98-96 in favor of the Warriors. In that game David West had 27 points to lead the Pacers, but it wasn’t enough as Klay Thompson put in 25 of his own for the Warriors -16 of which came in the fourth quarter- and Steph Curry chipped in with 19 of his own.
While a loss to the Warriors may not be cause for concern, the Pacers followed it up on Thursday with a 109-87 blowout at the hands of the lowly Bobcats. And while it can seem nearly impossible to find a silver lining in losing to one of the worst teams in the NBA by more than 20-points, the good news was that the Pacers became the first team to clinch a spot in the playoffs after the Pistons had lost earlier in the day.
However, where things might’ve become even more concerning was after another route on Friday night, this time at the hands of the red hot Houston Rockets. The Rockets were only up by seven at halftime, but they outscored the Pacers 38-16 in the third quarter and ran away with a 112-86 victory.
Some may think that now that the Pacers have clinched a playoff spot, maybe they are easing up on the gas to make sure everyone stays healthy for a championship run. However, with the way things ended up in the Eastern Conference Finals last year –when the Heat won in seven games on their home court- the idea of home court advantage has to be something that the Pacers should try and lock up.
Paul George, who is the undeniable leader and superstar of this Pacers squad, has not been up to his potential in the last few games. While many people are predicting that the MVP trophy will go to either LeBron James or Kevin Durant, George was assumed to be a reasonably close third in the race. However, after only putting up two points against Charlotte and 15 against Houston, he has certainly lost some traction while James and Durant were off this week putting up games with 61 and 47, respectively.
Despite the recent struggles, it may not quite be time to jump off the Pacers bandwagon just yet. As sportspicks.com handicappers have shown, Indiana has been one of the most reliable teams all season when it comes to their 46-16 record. However, with as close as we are getting to the playoffs and with as tight as the race is getting in the East between the Pacers and the Heat, Indiana certainly needs to shake off whatever has gotten into their system.
Things don’t get much easier as they prepare to head to Dallas for Sunday’s game, to play a Mavericks team that has been warming up lately and is looking to make their own playoff push.