By TYLER SMITH
Game 7 in Indianapolis.
That has been the goal for the Indiana Pacers all year long — to get a possible Game 7 against Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals to be played at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Pacers responded to that goal with a 33-7 start. Since then, however, the Pacers have slumped to a 13-9 record in their last 22 games. The race for the top seed is closer than ever, and fans are beginning to wonder where the “Gold Swagger” has gone.
The chances for a championship will not disappear if the Pacers cannot hold onto the top seed. But make no mistake about it, they would decrease significantly. Whoever ends up as the No. 2 seed between the Pacers and Heat will likely have to win twice on the road in the Eastern Conference finals to win the series. The top seed could probably win three of four on its home court. Considering the Heat and Pacers have each only dropped 4 games on their home court this entire season, home court means a lot.
It means even more for a Pacers team that has communicated that goal to the masses since training camp. Some may argue that the Pacers would play better as the underdogs. I would argue: You’re not going to beat LeBron James on the road in a game seven.
With all this said, is it time for Pacers fans to panic? Absolutely not. Be a little concerned?
Sure. Panic? No way. Here are my two main points that prove Pacers fans shouldn’t panic just yet:
1. Defense is easier to get back than offense. When a team has a prolonged slump on offense, it could mean that opposing teams have figured them out on that side of the ball. It’s tougher to reinvent yourselves on offense if things aren’t working. The Pacers are one of the best defensive teams in the last decade or more, and it’s much easier for the defense to return to form than a slumping offense. Check out these numbers: Despite being 20th
in the NBA in points per game, the Pacers are tied for 2nd in the NBA in points per game differential. They’ve only recently been passed by the Clippers in that category. In other words: The offense hasn’t been great all season. Lately the defense hasn’t been as sharp, which has resulted in more losses. When the defense returns, and it will, the wins will return as well.
2. The Pacers really struggled towards the end of last season, and they still came within one win of the NBA Finals. Last year’s team dropped four of six games from March 6th-16th. They also lost five of their final six games of the regular season. Did these slumps affect them in the playoffs?
Not at all. Of course, every season is different. There are times when a slump is an indicator of things to come. However, I just don’t feel this slump (if you can call 13-9 a slump) is an indicator of what’s ahead.
Too often, fans will only think about the here and now. They fail to think about the fact that an NBA season is long and grueling. Sometimes teams get tired. Sometimes top teams get bored. Sometimes it’s just a matter of being the “hunted” and their opponents are gunning for them.
This Pacers team will right the ship eventually. They’re too good not to.
Is there some concern for the top seed? Yes. Is the top seed extremely important? Yes. Can the Pacers get hot again and hang onto the top spot? Yes. Will they still have a legitimate shot of winning the East without that top spot? Yes.
It should be an exciting final month of the regular season. Enjoy the ride, Pacers fans.