NBA AM: Pacers Are Limping Down The Stretch

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The latest loss suffered by the Indiana Pacers—a heartbreaking 115-114 defeat at the hands of the lottery-bound Minnesota Timberwolves—left the franchise searching for answers in a season filled with inconsistency.

Since February, the Pacers and the Atlanta Hawks are the only two teams in the Eastern Conference currently projected to make the playoffs with a losing record during that span. Despite emerging victorious in just 12 of their past 27 contests, the Pacers (37-37) are currently seventh in the Eastern Conference standings with eight games to go.

However, the team is only two games ahead of the ninth-place Chicago Bulls, which represents a thin line between participating in the playoffs and watching home from the proverbial couch.

After the latest loss, Pacers All-Star forward Paul George was reportedly frustrated and essentially called out his teammates for not getting him the ball more down the stretch in the team’s latest loss versus Minnesota.

“Pissed,” George replied according to Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star when asked about the latest defeat. “I know I was pissed. It’s the only [way] to really sum it up.”

George notably voiced his opinion that the Pacers, as a unit, aren’t playing with a sense of urgency.

“We should have a professional approach, man, and defend our home court, especially to a team that’s not even in the playoffs,” George said. “That’s what it comes down to. As a team, we’ve got to have a grit and we’ve got to own up, man up.

“There’s no urgency, no sense of urgency, no winning pride. This locker room is just not pissed off enough.”

Whether the Pacers truly don’t have a sense of urgency is sure to be a hotly debated topic over the next few days, it would be bad form not to mention how the Pacers are limping down the stretch.

Veteran wingman Rodney Stuckey has a left patellar tendon strain and is expected to miss the next four to six weeks, reserve center Al Jefferson will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained ankle and Glenn Robinson III is currently out with a left calf strain.

While those three injuries to rotation guys would be tough for any team to absorb, the team’s starting power forward, Thaddeus Young, has been hampered by an injured wrist which has significantly reduced his effectiveness.

Young attempted 111 three-pointers in the club’s first 49 games this season, knocking down 40 percent of those tries. Since the All-Star break, the veteran has attempted just four in 16 appearances.

With all of the injuries and the threat of losing ground in the playoff chase, it would seemingly be a no-brainer of sorts to give George a larger workload. But the All-Star dropped some hints last week that some guys in the locker room aren’t happy when he increases his shot attempts.

Perhaps the biggest factor helping the Pacers stay afloat, despite their struggles, is the play of the teams behind them in the standings.

Like Indiana, Chicago has also lost six of their past 10 games. The 10th place Detroit Pistons are currently on a five-game losing streak and have won just two of their last 10 contests. The 11th place Charlotte Hornets have won five of their past 10.

If the playoffs began today, the Pacers would face the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round. While the Cavaliers have had their own issues as of late, four-time league MVP LeBron James has never lost in the first round of the playoffs since entering the league in 2003.

Surprisingly, the Pacers are just one game behind the surging Milwaukee Bucks for sixth place and a potential matchup versus the Washington Wizards. For the Pacers to right the ship in time for the playoffs, the team will need a much more selfish George dictating the team’s rhythm down the stretch and to his point, a bit more urgency in handling inferior teams.