Even after three straight losses, the Indiana Pacers remain the team with the league’s best record, though they’re now tied with Oklahoma City for that honor while sitting at 46-16 in the standings.
But the last two losses have been troubling.
On Wednesday, Indiana lost by 22 points to a Bobcats team that is five games under .500, and managed to hold Paul George to just two points in 34 minutes on 0-of-9 shooting.
Friday night in Houston, the Pacers held it together for a half before being run out of the gym in a third quarter which saw them outscored 38-16, and turned the final period into nothing more than extended garbage time.
This sequence of events caused the players inside the visitors locker room in Houston to take stock of the situation following the 26-point loss.
It started with Paul George and David West, two of the Indiana Pacers’ veteran leaders, crowding inside the small visiting coach’s locker room.
With their ankles still taped and their uniforms still on, there was an impromptu meeting taking place with hushed tones and grim faces. Sitting with his shoulder in ice at his locker, George Hill noticed and went over and slipped into the room. Then Roy Hibbert got up from his seat and stuck his head in.
Ten minutes passed, then 15. The team with the NBA’s best record is in its first legitimate funk of the year and it’s shaking the players up.
Losing to Houston on the road is nothing to be ashamed of, considering they’ve been hot lately and have the league’s best record since the first of the year. But for a team with championship aspirations, consecutive blowout losses, no matter the circumstances, is definitely cause for concern.
Indiana leads the league in defensive efficiency, but has seen its offense slip in recent weeks, dropping to a level below the league average. It’s tough to bring the intensity on the defensive end every single night like that, especially during the long grind of the regular season, and especially when the Pacers are no longer sneaking up on their opponents.
“Every team we play is playing above themselves,” Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said. “Our guys can talk about being the hunted but it’s a different thing to feel it. These teams are coming at us with great force and we’re going to have to rise to the challenge.”