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Pacers Set Record, But Offensive Woes Continue

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

November 13, 2012 | Updated: November 14, 10:59 AM

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The Pacers made history at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Tuesday night. It wasn't the kind of history they'll want to read about or relive, though, and their season hinges on whether they can find a lesson plan somewhere within the mess they're making.

The team that entered the season riding a wave of fan-fare is 3-5 following Tuesday's mindbending 74-72 loss to Toronto. The loss of Danny Granger is an obvious major factor, but the unpleasant truth is that it barely beat a winless Washington team that was without its two best players, John Wall and Nene on Saturday and followed up with a loss to a 1-6 Toronto team that was without two starters, Kyle Lowry and Landry Fields.

Get this: Toronto, which had lost a triple-overtime home game to Utah the previous night, had more game-long energy than the Pacers, who had played at home on Saturday, taken Sunday off and practiced on Monday. The Raptors scored just five points in the fourth quarter, the lowest for a Pacers opponent in any quarter in franchise history, and tying the second-lowest total for any team in NBA history in the shot clock era—and still won, because the Pacers scored just 14 points.

There's no way to dress it up and make it look presentable. The team is lost right now, and has presented coach Frank Vogel with the greatest challenge of his young coaching career. He not only has to figure a way to strategically limit the impact of the absence of Granger—who's going to merit votes for league MVP if his teammates continue to flounder like this—he also has to reconnect his team's psyche.

The Pacers entered the game second-to-last in league field goal percentage and probably dropped to last by shooting just 32 percent and lowering their season average to .401. Their two primary inside scoring threats, Roy Hibbert and David West, have combined to hit 13-of-52 shots in the last two games, scuffing rims even on easy shots around the basket. As a team, they put on one final, blatant display of bricklaying on their final possession, when they had five shots to tie or win the game and missed all five. They hit just 5-of-24 shots in the final period—1-of-16 by players not named Hill. And yet they nearly overcame an 11-point deficit, thanks to their aggressive defense and Toronto's tiring legs.

Vogel said he doesn't consider the offense to be out of sync, just merely the result of a stretch of poor shooting that will self-correct once the law of averages kicks in.

"Reversion to the mean," he said. "We have multiple guys in shooting slumps now who are better than they're showing."

Some players, however, said without being prompted that they do consider themselves to be out of sync.

"I don't know what it is, there's just no rhythm," West said. "There's no continuity ... it's too hard at times."

Hill, who led all scorers Tuesday with 18 points, but missed all four three-point attempts and had one more turnover (three) than assists, attempted to shoulder the blame.

"As a point guard I have to figure a way to get everyone involved and in sync," he said. "I put that on my shoulders. I have to find a way to get Roy going, and Paul and D. West.

"Right now I'm still learning as a point guard. I really never was a point guard growing up, so I'm learning every day. I have to take it like a man and figure out a way to do it."

Granger is not walking through a Pacers door anytime soon. Not in uniform, anyway. He's in town, but has been mostly immobilized since undergoing an injection to his left knee a week ago Tuesday. Meanwhile, team president Donnie Walsh, whose managerial success has been due largely to his willingness to avoid knee-jerk reactions amid challenging times, said before the game that he's not yet looking for outside help.

Mickael Pietrus is perhaps the most recognizable and intriguing available small forward, but other talents also are waiting in the wings. Power forward Andres Nocioni is playing in Spain, but is nearly a carbon copy of Tyler Hansbrough, who replaced Hibbert throughout most of the fourth quarter Tuesday and drew effusive praise from Vogel afterward. Point guard Shaun Livingston, the fourth pick in the draft in 2004 but the victim of a major knee injury in 2007, might be the best available player of all, but is a 6-7 point guard who has played for six teams and was released by a seventh before the season.

The bottom line on all the available veteran free agents is that they're available for a reason. The bottom line for the Pacers is that none of the solutions to what ails them is simple, unless they simply start shooting better.

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