Pacers Still Trying to Figure It Out

The Pacers are still in training camp, essentially. They're trying to get some players into game condition, they're waiting for a starter to get healthy, they're trying to develop chemistry, and they're figuring out who should start and who should play off the bench.

Problem is, one-fourth of the season has passed and the games all count. Monday's 108-92 loss to Atlanta at Bankers Life Fieldhouse increased their losing streak to five and dropped their record to 7-14. And, their next three games are against winning teams, with a combined record of 46-14.

One more thing. They admitted to being flat against the Hawks, a luxury they can't afford. That's understandable, and nearly inevitable, when you're coming off a week-long Western Conference road trip as the Pacers were, but then Atlanta was playing the second half of a back-to-back set and had plenty of energy.

The best compliment to give the Pacers at the moment is that they're not making excuses or grasping at silver linings.

“We can't keep saying we're getting better when we're losing,” said Solomon Hill, who had the Pacers' best all-around effort with five points, seven rebounds and six assists. “Not only losing, but losing by 20-plus points at home.

“For the Indiana Pacers, it has to be more than just competing. We're in a situation now where guys are banged up, but there's opportunity for the rest of the team. We're in the business of winning, not just competing hard.”

The Pacers dropped out of contention early, trailing by 10 points after the first quarter. The deficit was 17 at halftime and 21 after the third quarter. They won the fourth quarter, because they didn't give up in garbage time and C.J. Miles got hot and scored 15 points.

This team, in its current incarnation, isn't quick by NBA standards, which doesn't allow it the luxury of being flat, regardless of travel schedule. Atlanta hit 52 percent of its field goal attempts, becoming the sixth opponent this season to hit at least half of its shots. Last season, only seven opponents managed to do that.

Offensively, the Pacers aren't attacking the basket and getting to the foul line. They attempted just 17 foul shots in this game, 10 fewer than Atlanta, and hit just nine of them. Meanwhile, they fired up 27 3-pointers (14 in the fourth quarter) and only hit nine (six in the fourth quarter).

Coach Frank Vogel said in the preseason he wanted to get to the foul line frequently, but it hasn't happened. His team has attempted 61 fewer foul shots than opponents so far, and scored 38 fewer points from there – more than enough to factor into at least a few of their losses.

Why aren't they getting to the line more often?

“I don't really want to touch that one,” Vogel said. “We need to get to the line more. But I won't comment on why.”

They miss Paul George, for one thing. George, sitting out with a broken leg, attempted 464 foul shots last season, the third-highest total for a Pacers player since Reggie Miller was leading the team in scoring. Overall, the Pacers attempted 139 more foul shots than opponents and hit 78 percent of them, an easily overlooked factor in their 56-26 record.

Without George, and with David West working his way back into shape from a badly sprained ankle, they have to rely mostly on Roy Hibbert for the type of close-range scoring that draws fouls. Hibbert, however, failed to go to the foul line against the Hawks, largely because he often failed to get the ball close to the basket. Of his four successful field goals, two were eight-foot jump hooks, and the others were jumpers from about 18 feet.

It's only partly on Hibbert, though.

“We've got to get better at feeding the post,” Vogel said. “Our post-feeding has been very sporadic and he's got to work harder to get deeper positioning.”

It's another symptom of a team lacking chemistry, a team finding its way.

“If I knew the way to get more free throws, we definitely would do it,” said Hill, who leads the team in free throw attempts this season. “I think we just have to be more aggressive.”

If they're not able to draw fouls, the Pacers have to hit 3-point shots, something they've done only occasionally. Miles, however, offered hope by hitting 4-of-7. The Pacers desperately miss the 3-point shooting of George, Lance Stephenson and George Hill, all of whom shot about 35 percent last season. Miles, who hit 39 percent of his attempts last season in Cleveland, is the player most capable of filling the vacancy.

Miles missed seven games while recovering from a bout with migraine headaches and other maladies, but appears to be regathering his touch. He's hit 40 percent of his 3-pointers in the last six games.

“(Just) being able to find a little rhythm and finding some open shots,” he said. “I'm figuring out ways to be a little more patient. My shot selection has been a little better and I've been able to see the game a little better to be aggressive and not be reckless.”

The Pacers now have their second five-game losing streak of the season, with no relief in sight from the schedule. Vogel already has tried six starting lineups, mostly because of the loss or return of injured players.

Could another one be forthcoming?

“You reconsider everything, every day,” he said. “I believe in the stability of rotation, but we're not going to overreact. We've been in a lot of these games that we've lost. It's a very tough stretch of our schedule. We're battling through a lot of different situations. Yes, we will consider it everyday, but it's unlikely to change now.”

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