INDIANAPOLIS- It seems that the team that went on a tear in the Western Conference just last week has left the building. With the emergence of an all-star caliber Roy Hibbert comes the disappearance of starters Paul George and Lance Stephenson. George was an apparent no-show in Saturday’s game against the Washington Wizards where he scored only two points and wasn’t much more effective against the Oklahoma City Thunder with only seven points. If his offensive numbers weren’t bad enough, he looked absolutely lost on defense letting Kevin Durant drop 34 points!
This is especially alarming for an Indiana Pacers defense that for much of the regular season has lead the league in least points allowed (90.2). The number one defense in the league has put together two games that seem to mirror the worst defense in the league of the Sacramento Kings who allow their opponents to score 104.9 points per game. What’s worse is that the Pacers have failed to even break 90 points in the last two games. It seems as though this is a bit late in the season to be going through a slump. Especially with it looking more and more like the New York Knicks might pull away from the Indiana Pacers for the second seed in the East as they are currently on an eleven game win streak.
The problem that lies with having the third seed in the East is not having the third seed in the East. It is a commendable accomplishment and is an indicator of a nice long playoff run. The problem that the Indiana Pacers will face with having the third seed is the high probability of playing Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks in the second round of the playoffs. The problem is, the Indiana Pacers were a better team last season then they are this season. With all of the success that the Indiana Pacers have enjoyed without former all-star and team captain Danny Granger in the line-up they are only averaging 94.7 points per a game on the offensive end versus the 97.7 points per a game they were averaging last season going into the playoffs. While that wouldn’t seem like much to the run of the mill sports enthusiast, that three more points per a game means three more points to beat an opponent, more 100 plus point games, and one more three point shot made per a game which the Pacers have been truly been struggling with (5-41 in the last two).
I’m not hitting the panic button for the Pacers yet. I can’t see the Boston Celtics nor the Milwaukee Bucks beating the Pacers in a seven game series. The Pacers are much to young for the Celtics to keep up with for that long and much to good defensively for the Bucks to string together enough wins. I have total confidence that we will see the Pacers in the second round this season but that is where my confidence ends. If the Danny Granger-less Pacers are to face the New York Knicks in the second round this season, a team that has taken three giant steps forward since the last time they met, I have my doubts. If they do manage to make it past the Knicks they will probably face LeBron James and the Miami Heat for the second time in two seasons. They might give the Heat a hard time much like they did with the Chicago Bulls when they made their play-off return a few seasons ago (Chicago won in five) but, I just don’t see them giving the Heat quite the scare that they did last season when they went up on them 2-0 in the first two games only to loose in six. Although I’m critical, the Pacers have had a knack for proving their critics wrong this season. Hopefully, they can do it again.