The Miami Heat finally caught up to the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference standings. The Pacers went 8-10 in the month of March, and although the Heat weren't much better, managed to be percentage points ahead of the Pacers before April. At 51-22, the Heat have the edge on the Pacers at 52-23.
The Heat have 9 games left, including one at home against the Pacers. But as much as this is good, it didn't have a whole lot to do with the Heat. In fact, Miami left Indiana last week down 3 games in the standings. The Heat simply beat the Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks and then the Toronto Raptors at home. Although it was without Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, and Greg Oden - those were games we all expected the Heat to win.
The Pacers, on the other hand, lost on the road to the Washington Wizards and the Cleveland Cavaliers, and then got blown out by 26 points at home to the San Antonio Spurs. The Pacers have lost 5 of their last 6, and are simply collapsing.
Since Feb. 20, the Pacers have gone 11-10, with only two of those wins coming against playoff-hopeful opponents (Chicago on March 21, Miami on March 26). We can point to an already bad offense that has dropped to 29th in the league over that 11-10 stretch, just ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers. The Pacers were 36-10 when they acquired Andrew Bynum and have gone 16-13 since. Evan Turner, their praised acquisition at the deadline, was even benched in the second half against the Spurs in preference of Rasual Butler.
There's serious problems going on in Indiana. The Pacers seem perplexed at what's wrong, offering a lot of "I don't know's" and "we just have to figure it out."
"It's awful, we've been in a downward spiral and we've been splintering a little bit. We've had plenty of players-only meetings and plenty of sit-downs as a team with coaches and we've had some upper management in here, so I don't know. Maybe we should all go to group therapy or something, sit down with Dr. (Chris) Carr and figure out some of our grievances." - Roy Hibbert
Roy Hibbert was also the one who said there were "some selfish players in here" referring to his locker-room. It seems as though Hibbert would prefer to have the ball more. So what's wrong in Indiana? Well, a lot. But let me offer you some perspective you might not have thought of before.
The Indiana Pacers offense has always been bad
This may sound harsh, but it's true. The Pacers have never been an elite offensive team, nor have they claimed to be one. The Pacers rank 24th in the NBA in PPG, and 28th in APG. Yes, they have the top defensive team, but their offense has never been good. The Pacers have lost the memo that the NBA has changed, it's no longer a defensive-only minded team that can lock teams up - the NBA encourages scoring and it's rules allow themselves to make this happen. The Pacers rely a lot on bullying people down low and taking advantage of mismatches.
The Pacers haven't been able to overcome their bad offense with elite defense. Luis Scola recognized this in his comments after the Pacers failed to reach 80 points again. In the playoffs when teams have another chance to figure exactly what you are doing, the Pacers need to learn how to score efficiently again. They are shooting only 44% as a team, and in this losing slump, haven't eclipsed 40%.
Things have changed
This is subtle, but worth a note. The trade of Turner for Danny Granger has seemingly impacted the team. They won't talk about it, but it's a glaring sign. They've also noticed they haven't handled success as well. The Heat go through slumps that show they are disinterested, and this could be the same for the Pacers, except it is visibly obvious that they care, and can't figure it out. Now that their goal of a #1 seed is in doubt, the pressure is on them - not on the Heat and this is how they are handling it.
The Pacers are better offensively when Paul George is not handling the ball
And I don't think they know this. The ball used to go through Hibbert and David West, but more and more Paul George is being looked at as the guy, and it's hurting the team. The Pacers are a better team when George is a cutter, spot up shooter, and off the screen player. George is good, and deserves the ball when the game is on the line, but the offensive struggles would decrease if the Pacers renewed their identity as a power team.
Lance Stephenson, George Hill, Evan Turner all should look to the post for primary offense, that's what Indiana is, not a perimeter oriented team. When they figure this out, and don't turn away from it, their offense will return to the subpar level it used to be at.
But here's the truth of it all - more than likely the Pacers and Heat are going to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. And regardless of how terrible the Pacers are playing right now, it's obvious that they get juiced up to play the Heat for multiple reasons and they will bring their best effort against the Heat. So forget about losing to Cleveland and others, the Pacers will be ready for Miami - now it's just a matter of whether Game 1 will be in Indianapolis or Miami.