Indiana Pacers try to stay optimistic with No. 1 seed

April 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

4-16-george-hill-pacers

The Pacers are the top seed for the Eastern Conference playoffs and will have home-court advantage for the first three rounds of the 2014 NBA playoffs. That was their stated goal at the start of the season, in the middle of the season and at the end of the season, even as they stumbled to the finish line.

For all their late-season problems — most notably on the defensive end — they still won at least 55 games. When asked to diagnose Indiana’s issues, Miami Heat star LeBron James declined to bite.

“Very, very good team,” James said after Miami’s recent 98-86 win against the Pacers. “Just as tough as they were to us we were tough on them as well. It’s two very good teams, and they have their record for a reason. You don’t just coast or play bad basketball and win 50-plus games in a season. They’re going to be there.”

Not everyone is so sure. The Pacers are 11-13 since March 1, and while the Pacers had the league’s most efficient defense this season, in the past six weeks, they are allowing 103.2 points per 100 possessions compared to 96.8 for the season. The offensive efficiency has dipped, too, compounding the problem.

Can the Pacers beat the Hawks in the first round? Will they make it out of the second round? Can they beat Miami even with home-court advantage?

Despite the struggle, the Pacers’ locker room didn’t implode. They bickered publicly and privately. Center Roy Hibbert called some teammates selfish, and a few times, players huddled in the locker room after losses for intense discussions.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel said it’s normal — and healthy — for players to argue and air grievances. Husbands and wives argue. Siblings argue. So do teammates.

“When you have high-character people, which (Pacers President) Larry Bird built this team on, you overcome all that and stay together,” Vogel said. “It’s talking and listening. Listening is just as important. Hearing what someone else is saying is important.”

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