Why the Indiana Pacers aren't taken seriously as playoff contenders

The Indiana Pacers have been solid this season, but one glaring weakness is preventing them from being a serious playoff contender.
Indiana Pacers, Tyrese Haliburton, Pacers defense, Jerami Grant, Bruce Brown
Indiana Pacers, Tyrese Haliburton, Pacers defense, Jerami Grant, Bruce Brown / Dylan Buell/GettyImages

Currently, the Indiana Pacers are 9-7 and are holders of the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, coming off a crushing fourth-quarter loss against the lowly Portland Trail Blazers.

This game had all the signature mishaps of a Pacers loss this season. There was a complete lack of defense down the stretch, which led to Jerami Grant scoring 17 in the fourth quarter to snatch the game away from the Pacers, as Indiana's defense did little to nothing to control him or any other Blazer.

This continues an ongoing trend of opposing forwards having amazing scoring nights against the Pacers, further highlighting their defensive shortcomings and what they should look to improve for the trade deadline or offseason.

The Pacers' lack of defense is a major part of a huge problem that has reared its ugly head as of late, that being the Pacers' inability to take advantage of inferior teams. This has been said multiple times this year, going back to the recent Pistons win and Raptors loss. The Pacers do not know their own strength and what they are capable of.

Apart from their Opening Night win over Washington and the decisive blowout against San Antonio, the Pacers have struggled to get wire-to-wire wins. The initial win with an injury-ridden Cleveland team went down to the wire due to the Pacers' defense not playing up to par, requiring some Tyrese Haliburton heroics for a win.

Following this unnecessarily close win, the Pacers suffered a narrow home loss against the currently 5-14 Chicago Bulls and the aforementioned blowout loss to Boston. Despite a hard-fought victory against a healthy Cleveland team, Indiana faced another setback with a home loss to the Charlotte Hornets in the final minutes.

After the blowout win against the Spurs, the Pacers once again secured a victory against a significantly worse team off fourth-quarter runs to beat the Utah Jazz after Utah had kept the game close for the initial three quarters despite missing Walker Kessler.

Finally, while the final score of the Detroit game appears lopsided, it's important to note that the outcome was mainly shaped by fourth-quarter runs and surprising defensive efforts in the closing moments. After three quarters, the Pacers held just a one-point lead, emphasizing the significance of their late-game performance in securing the victory.

Over the past few weeks, the Pacers' failure to capitalize on mismatches against weaker teams has escalated from a minor concern to a significant issue. These issues have started to raise concerns about their playoff chances, even making it hard for them to make the playoffs at this rate.

The expectations among Indiana fans for the team this season are relatively high, and one obvious expectation is for the Pacers to exploit the weaknesses of inferior teams, securing wire-to-wire victories, especially when playing on their home court.

However, in 16 games played, many against inferior teams, the blowout over San Antonio has been the only wire-to-wire decisive win the Pacers have had, as they have been on the losing end of plenty of blowouts in their own right so far.

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Hopefully something changes in time for this Pacers team because if they can't pick up the easy wins against lottery-bound teams, they will most definitely have issues against better teams, such as the Boston Celtics, whom they will face in the In-Season Tournament quarterfinals on Monday, November 4 or Tuesday, November 5.