Veterans Parker, Duncan On Pacers’ Slump: It happens, They’ll Be Fine

by Manny Randhawa | @MannyRsports

April 1, 2014 | 12:05 a.m.

Crisp, no-look passes to a wide open teammate underneath the basket for a dunk. The extra second, then third pass for a corner 3-pointer that gets buried. Ball movement. Energy. Confidence.

In short, it was everything the Pacers wanted – no, needed – on Monday to break out of their alarming offensive rut.

But it was happening to them, not for them on a long night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The San Antonio Spurs, an NBA-best 58-16 after their 103-77 demolition of Indiana, and winners of a franchise-record 18 consecutive games, were everything the Pacers currently are not in 48 minutes that featured offense so anemic and inept that booing was heard on multiple occasions for the home team.

Indiana shot 38 percent Monday, and is shooting 37 percent in its current three-game losing streak. The Pacers have lost 10 of their last 16. To put that into context, Indiana hadn’t lost its 10th game of the season until Jan. 30, its 45th game.

The offensive – and yes, it’s both “offensive” in the sports etymology as well as “offensive” to the Pacers’ sense of pride – ugliness of the past 10 days is staggering. In their last six games, the Pacers averaged 77.1 points, losing five of those contests. In the month that mercifully ended Monday night, the Pacers went 8-10, making March the first losing month this team has posted in a full calendar year (2-5 in April 2013).

Many questions are swirling around the Pacers, chief among them being: What is plaguing this team, a 52-win group that aspired to a championship from Day 1 of the 2013-14 season and now hasn’t managed to score 80 points in five of its last six games?

But there were still no answers in the home locker room after the latest defeat. The 26-point drubbing was a new “rock bottom,” and Indiana’s woes even had players in the Spurs locker room scratching their heads late Monday night.

“It’s very strange,” said Tony Parker, who scored a game-high 22 points. “It’s very strange. It’s hard to say [what the problem is]. They played with a lot of confidence in the beginning of the season, and right now it’s just, I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. They have all the pieces. They have a great team and they’ve got all they need to go to the NBA Finals. They just have to get some confidence going.”

It’s pretty clear that the Pacers’ confidence has taken a body blow. If and when that confidence returns is anyone’s guess at this point. But both Parker and Tim Duncan, who have a combined 28 years of NBA experience between them, say that what the Pacers are experiencing may be strange, but it’s not unusual.

“We had a rough patch earlier this year where we couldn’t win certain games against certain teams,” Duncan said of a 13-game stretch in which the Spurs dropped seven, including contests against the Bulls, Nets and Pistons. “It just happens. You hope you can get out of that funk before the playoffs hit, but you don’t know how to explain it. It just kind of happens … I can’t even remember what it was honestly that we went through, but it just happens sometimes.”

As concerning as all of this has to be for the Pacers, Parker said that he thinks Indiana will figure it out in time, preserving the hope for a highly anticipated showdown with the Heat in late May.

“I’m not worried about them,” the three-time NBA champion said of the Pacers. “They’re still going to go to the conference finals and it’s going to be a great matchup against Miami. They’re still the two favorites in the East. Everybody goes through ups and downs during the season. And it’s the way you’re going to come back from that that’s going to judge your personality and the character of that team. But to be honest with you, I’m not really worried about them.”

How the Pacers come back from this self-inflicted misery will determine not only whether they meet their goal of reaching the Finals, but also whether they can even avoid taking a step backward with an early exit in the playoffs.

But for all the panic that is setting in around Indiana, perhaps there is solace to be found in the way the Pacers finished the 2012-13 campaign. After all, they lost nine of their final 19 and stumbled through an opening round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks before dispatching the Knicks and pushing the Heat to the brink last summer.

It’s not too late to turn things around, but time isn’t on Indiana’s side. Despite the gloom hovering over his opponents on Monday, however, Parker remains unconvinced that there isn’t a very good chance he will see the Pacers with the Larry O’Brien Trophy on the line in June.

“I think they’ll be just fine,” he said. “And when the playoffs start, they’re going to click.”

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