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Pacers lose again January 13, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Indiana Pacers.
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PacersIf I put up a new post every time the Pacers lose a game, I wouldn’t have time to do much else.  Promise to keep basketball posts to a minimum from now on.

Another night, another loss

Today the Pacers lost again in the second game of their back-to-back and last game of their 5-game road trip – this time to the Utah Jazz 120-113, as  Mehmet Okur of the Jazz registered a career high 43 points.  Danny Granger led the way for the Pacers with 30 points and 7 assists, plus an impressive 6 of 7 from 3-point range.  With the loss, Indiana fell to 13-25.

Why do they suck so bad?

The problem with the Pacers since the arrival of head coach Jim O’Brien last season is that they can’t defend anyone.  They are one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, giving up an average of 107.1 points per contest.  The only team worse than them is the Golden State Warriors, who they lost to last night.

Star players on opposing teams love lighting up the Pacers.  Forget Mehmet Okur.  Amare Stoudamire registered 49 points and 11 rebounds against them on November 5.  Kevin Durant put 37 big ones on them on November 10.  Dwayne Wade, 38 points and 8 assists while playing with the flu on November 22.  Dwight Howard, 32 and 22 on November 29.  Vince Carter, 38 and 8 on December 23.  The list goes on and on.  And forget star players.  Even average players tend to post their season and career highs on the Pacers this season.  Zach Randolph, Raymond Felton, Jason Kapono, Charlie Villanueva, just to name a few.

As Mike Dunleavy Jr said, with this style of play, they can beat any team on any given night, but they can also lose to any team.  And the problem is, they lose a lot more than they win.  Sure, they’ve shocked the Celtics and the Lakers this season, but they’ve lost too many games (often close games or from blowing huge leads) against crappy teams they should have beat.

How to fix it?

Even though they suck defensively, the Pacers are at least putting points on the board under Jim O’Brien.  They are 3rd in the league in scoring, an impressive 104.6 points per game – impressive, that is, if you don’t look at how much they are giving up at the same time.  So at least they are entertaining to watch now.  But what can they do to salvage a season that is slipping away, again?

1. Play some freakin’ defense

Everyone knows defense wins championships.  Just ask the Celtics from last year, all the Spurs championship teams, the Pistons when they shocked the Lakers in 2004.  The Pacers can’t even see a championship with binoculars, but they should at least know that defense will win them some games.

The great Pacers teams of the late 90s and even the good teams after the turn of the millennium were excellent defensive teams.  It’s not that they had great individual defensive players (though there were a couple), but as a team unit they had the same tenacious mentality to shut down other teams.  Defense is not just about technique, it’s also significantly about mentality.  They’ve got to stop other teams thinking they can just come into their building and steamroll them.  It’s easy to talk about it but it all starts in practice.  That would be a good start.

2. Better mindset against bad teams

Secondly, they need to have the same mindset against the bad teams as they do against the good teams.  No one is expecting them to beat the top teams every night.  It’s okay to lose those, get blown out even, whatever.  But against the few beatable teams they play, they must take advantage.  Beating the Lakers and Celtics then losing to the Bobcats and Clippers still gives you a record of 2-2.  The Pacers have lost to Philadelphia, Chicago, Charlotte, Toronto, Milwaukee, LA Clippers, Memphis and Golden State this season.  Not all are easy teams but all are sub-0.500 and beatable.  If they just won 4 of those 8 games their record would be a much more respectable 17-21.

3. Develop a killer instinct

The Pacers have played and lost more close games than any other team in the league this season.  They are a combined 5-15 in games decided by 6 points or less or games that went into overtime.  They’ve also blown a whole heap of huge leads in many of those games.  Imagine if they just won a few of those.  However, developing a killer instinct is the hardest thing to do.  Ever since Reggie Miller retired, they haven’t had anyone with a killer instinct on the team, someone who you know will hit the big shot or will at least do everything they can to stop a furious comback or spark one.  Danny Granger has hit a couple of game winners this year and taken some big strides, but he’s not at that level just yet.  TJ Ford and Jarrett Jack have also hit one here and there.  Along with Mike Dunleavy, these are the four prime candidates.  Hopefully, from playing all these close games, at least one of them will emerge.

4. Protect home floor

Back in the good old days, it was always ‘win at home then get a few on the road’, and you’ll have a very solid record.  These days for the Pacers, everything is in the air when they play at Conseco Fieldhouse.  They are a woeful 7-9 at home, including unacceptable home losses to the Bobcats and Clippers.  It’s obvious no one is afraid of playing in Indiana (maybe except the Pacers).

Protecting home floor is also a mentality thing.  The Pacers need to develop a sense of pride about defending their home court.  The lack of fans make it more difficult, but if they don’t show a little bit of resilience by themselves, why would the fans start coming back?

Conclusion

As bad as they are playing right now, not all is lost.  Every indication points to the Pacers actually playing better this year than last despite having a worse record.  They have had a rough schedule thus far and played 6 more away games than home games.  Dunleavy’s finally back and he’s producing from the bench, so expect even more from him when he eventually starts and plays starter minutes.  Granger continues to evolve.  If they can just scrape together a few victories here and there, the playoffs are not out of the question in the East, where you don’t have to win more than you lose to make it.  I don’t expect them to because they always find a way to falter, but their winning percentage should be a lot better by the end of the season than it is now.  Maybe.

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