"Stay the course" is the motto coach Frank Vogel has been preaching since the Pacers began their struggles before the All-Star break last month. But if they keep staying on this present course we're probably looking at a second seed and a first round exit. Am I exaggerating? Perhaps, but the Pacers have been in a funk so funky that their confidence has to be severely shot heading into the stretch run.
They didn't play awful against the Bulls tonight, but not being awful is not good even enough to win games against average teams, let alone elite opponents. The Pacers beat the Bulls by 11 at home with a third quarter run a few nights ago, and tonight the Bulls returned the favor with a strong third quarter push which the Pacers never recovered from. Final score, 89-77.
No one could make a shot. Paul George had 21 but was 8-22 from the field and 1-6 from three-point range — and he was the best Pacer of the night not named George Hill, who had 17 on 10 shots with no turnovers. David West had 14 but Lance Stephenson was held to 8, and Roy Hibbert had his usual shitfest with 3 points, no field goals, 3 turnovers and 5 fouls. Those are not All Star numbers. Those are not starting center numbers. They're not even reserve center numbers. They are not NBA numbers. I love Roy but he emits a foul and unpleasant odor right now.
Despite their struggles, the Pacers have only lost to an Eastern Conference team once at home all season (to Detroit), which emphasizes just how important it will be for them to hold on to the East's top seed. With their loss tonight, the Pacers finish March with a pathetic 7-7 record and fall to 51-20. Miami beat Portland on a late LeBron basket tonight and move to just 2 games behind the Pacers, including just a single game difference in the loss column.
Both teams have been struggling so Wednesday's big matchup in Indy has lost some of its luster, but it's nevertheless a huge game the Pacers have to win if they want to have any hopes of latching onto that top seed. More importantly, a solid outing against the Heat will give the Pacers confidence in their final 10 games of the season and could potentially pave the way for the team to regain their mojo just in time for the playoffs. A devastating loss, on the other hand, could shatter what little confidence they have left.