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Pacers Still Have Work To Do

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

February 13, 2014 | 12:11 a.m.

The Pacers take a 40-12 record into the All-Star break, the best to this point of the season in their NBA history.

That's good, right?

The Pacers also have lost two of their last three games, neither of them in excusable fashion, and have lost two home games in the past two weeks after losing just one in the first 13 weeks.

That's bad, right?

They had to pass through a somber postgame locker room to get to their vacation following Wednesday's 81-73 loss to Dallas at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, aware of their recent self-inflicted miseries. Then again, they can look forward to returning for the season's stretch run with a legitimate opportunity to compete for a championship.

Confusing, right?

That's where they are now. They seem equal parts impressive and frustrating, mature and immature, dedicated and distracted. Then again, they're 40-12, the best record in the Eastern Conference and second-best in the league behind Oklahoma City. They would have gladly accepted this record at the start of the season, but like multi-millionaires who have made a few recent bad investments, they don't feel fulfilled.

“Probably two or three games we've shown up and not done our jobs,” David West said. “We could have eight or nine losses, but I don't know if we'd be totally thrilled with that, either. That's the great thing about this group. Nobody's satisfied. This is probably the quietest the locker room has been after a loss. We'll regroup and reset.”

Wednesday's loss was somewhat predictable given the Pacers' recent pattern. Stung by a homecourt loss to Phoenix on Jan. 30, they responded with a four-game win streak. They were headed toward a fifth straight win at Orlando on Sunday, but relaxed after building that late third-quarter lead and lost to the third-worst team in the NBA. Stung by that, they bounced back to beat Denver the following night by scoring a season-high 119 points, but followed with a season-low 73 against Dallas.

The Mavericks, by the way, ranked 20th in NBA defense entering the game. The Pacers self-destructed.

“It was one of those games it seemed everybody was on vacation,” said Danny Granger, the lone meaningful contributor off the bench with 13 points. “We didn't move the ball like we have in the past. Our offense was just kind of sputtering along. Seventy-three points is pathetic.

“We got to sets we didn't know we were in and we got to the shot clock several times. It just compounded and we saw the game slipping away.”

The Pacers, as they tend to do, managed to hang around throughout the game, never far out of touch despite their follies. They were tied at 66 after Paul George's fading shot with 5:45 left, but followed with a shot clock violation, Lance Stephenson's missed layup in traffic, another turnover and West's missed well-guarded left-hander underneath the basket. By then they were down eight, and in trouble.

George Hill (team-high 14 points) scored with 3:10 left to make it a six-point game, but George left Monta Ellis long enough to allow him to drive baseline, draw a foul from Roy Hibbert and hit two free throws. George's three-pointer with 37.3 seconds left following a Dallas turnover got the Pacers within three, but Lance Stephenson committed an unnecessary foul on the inbounds pass, allowing Monta Ellis to hit two free throws. George then missed a well-defended three-pointer, and Dallas was able to close out the game from the foul line.

The Pacers scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, hitting 5-of-18 shots, committed seven turnovers in the period, and had 20 turnovers overall.

“Another flat night,” said George, who hit just 4-of-17 shots. “We held them to (81) points, but offensively it was a flat night. We couldn't get a shot to go in. A lot of uncharacteristic plays.”

Games like this happen, but they don't happen very often to championship-aspiring teams on their home court. As good as they are, the Pacers have some habits to break when the season resumes.

“We said after this game we have to look ourselves in the mirror and see how far we want to take this thing,” Granger said. “Although we do have the best record (in the Eastern Conference), games like this can come back and haunt you. You stop playing a certain way and then it will come back to bite you in the playoffs.”

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