By Ben Sullivan on March 9, 2014
Things haven’t been going well for the Indiana Pacers lately. A team that is on the short list of legitimate title contenders in the NBA, they’ve lost three in a row for the first time all season, including a brutal blowout at the hands of the league’s hottest team, the Houston Rockets. It’s been a rough stretch for the Pacers recently, but there are plenty of reasons to think they can bounce back.
So much of defense in today’s game revolves around defending the three-point line. Last season, Indianapolis held teams to 33 percent shooting from long range, but have let their last three opponents hit a jarring 47 percent. That just won’t get it done in the NBA today. They will need to find a way to run shooters off the line if they want to get back to their winning ways.
The NBA regular season is a marathon, not a sprint. Every team goes through small stretches where things don’t go their way, even really good ones. The Pacers are going to be there in the end, especially in a weak Eastern Conference. They have to keep reminding themselves that the only thing that matters is beating the Heat four times out of seven in a few months.
One thing about being labeled a title contender is that every team, even bad ones, give you their best effort. That doesn't usually happen in the NBA, and it can be jarring for a team that is new to having a tough fight every night out. In the end, it should help the Pacers be ready for the consistent intensity of the playoffs.
The Pacers have built their recent run of success on a defensive foundation. The NBA game has become more and more defensive since the inclusion of amorphous zone defenses, and head coach Frank Vogel is one of the best defensive minds in the league. The Pacers allowed just 88 points per game in the first 40 games, but have given up 100 per in their last 10. If they get back to their championship-level game defensively, the wins will follow.
The effects of over 60 games this season and two playoffs runs the last couple of years are starting to wear on the starting five of the Pacers. The first unit was outscored 70-45 in the Rockets loss, including only 13 points from George and 15 from West. Indianapolis has made moves in recent years to solidify the bench; now is the time to lean on those role players to give the starters the rest they need to be ready for a long playoff run.
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