Emerging Pacers problem rears ugly head in worst loss of season

The Indiana Pacers have a problem, and it popped up in their loss to the Charlotte Hornets.
Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Hornets, Tyrese Haliburton
Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Hornets, Tyrese Haliburton / Michael Hickey/GettyImages

The Indiana Pacers have just come off their 25th loss of the season, and this was perhaps the worst one of the season. Mostly fully healthy, besides Jalen Smith, Indiana played sloppily, carelessly, and overall quite terribly against the dreadful Charlotte Hornets.

Despite Indiana making easy work of the Hornets the last time they faced off, never trailing once in their February 4 matchup, the matchup on the 13th was quite different, with Indiana only outscoring the Hornets in one of four quarters en route to a 102-111 loss.

There were many takeaways from this loss, be it the 8/30 from beyond the arc, the two, yes, TWO total offensive rebounds, or the fact that Charlotte turned the ball over 16 times and Indiana only managed to score 11 total points off those turnovers.

Overall, it was quite a hideous game and perhaps showed off Indiana's flaws more than any night of the season, as they ended up losing to a Charlotte team missing LaMelo Ball and Mark Williams.

This loss only highlights a bigger problem and perhaps Indiana's biggest concern heading into the All-Star break: their inability to handle business against significantly worse teams.

The Pacers have used their fast-paced play to surprise significantly better teams and take advantage of playstyle mismatches throughout the season. This is how they managed a 4-1 record against the Bucks, a 2-1 record against the Knicks, a 2-1 record against the 76ers, and an impressive 2-3 record against the Boston Celtics, the best out of any team in the league against Boston.

Despite this, Indiana often lets this play style get ahead of them and get carried away against inferior teams. Against the Hornets, the Pacers played with no sense of urgency to kick their play into another gear and almost acted as if they were entitled to a win.

To see this, you can look no further than the 18 bench points from the Pacers compared to Charlotte's 44. Indeed, it was Indiana's bench that ultimately cost them this game, as they shot 8/23 from the field and a dreadful 2/9 from beyond the arc, with Obi Toppin and TJ McConnell being the only players of note from the bench.

Once again, Bennedict Mathurin struggled, shooting 0/4 from the field and going scoreless in just under 15 minutes, as did Doug McDermott, who has yet to score in his second Pacers tenure.

Overall, this win just adds to Indiana's rather unremarkable record against bad teams. Fifty games into the season, while the Pacers have amassed an impressive 15-10 record against over .500 teams, they have had the same 15-10 record against under .500 teams, which is absolutely not a good sign, as when the playoff race gets narrower, those easily winnable games will start to matter more in the long run, and going 2-2 vs Charlotte, 1-1 against Chicago, 0-2 against Portland, and 1-1 against Memphis certainly will not help the Pacers bottom line.

A few games ago, I mentioned how the Pacers' schedule gets easier after the national TV game against Boston and how they should take advantage of the worse teams with Tyrese Haliburton on a minutes restriction to sneak some easy ones before the going gets rough.

Instead, Indiana has gone a subpar 3-4 in that stretch, including losses to a shorthanded Knicks team, a subpar Warriors team, and the aforementioned Hornets team.

This is not good standing for one of the best up-and-coming teams in the league, which is expected to make a serious playoff push with Pascal Siakam on the team. Speaking of standings, this loss was bad for Indiana in more ways than one, as not only was it a bad showing against a bad team, but it also sank Indiana out of the top 6 in the East, putting them in play-in territory for the first time since late December.

For a team that has struggled a bit against inferior competition, it may not be a good idea for the Pacers to stay in the play-in territory, especially since they would play Miami if the season ended today, who they have been known to struggle against.

With the trade deadline being over and the final tweaks to this Pacers team seemingly being made, this is more or less the Indiana Pacers team we will see in the playoffs, and currently, that is not looking like a good thing.

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Of course, there are lingering factors in play, such as Tyrese Haliburton's injury management, Mathurin's illness, and overall growing pains, but those will have to be fixed soon, or else the Pacers are in for a rude awakening come April.