Pacers Remain a Puzzling Team

The problem isn't a lack of weapons. The problem, as C.J. Miles said, is how to use the weapons they have, and in what order.

"We've got to find out which order you want to swing them in," Miles said after the Pacers' sixth loss in seven games. "Do you want to hit them with the machete, or do you want to hit them with the sledgehammer first?"

In other words, the Pacers continue to be in a state of flux, which is fast becoming their buzzword for the season. Their 91-89 loss to the Clippers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse continued a slide that began in Boston on Jan. 13, and has only a narrow victory at Phoenix to prevent them from losing seven in a row.

But how do you heal a team when its symptoms keep changing? Some nights it has a headache, some night it has a runny nose, some nights it's got a sore foot.

They had been struggling defensively, giving up more than 100 points in five of their previous six games. But they were much better in that area on Tuesday, holding the Clippers more than 13 points below their average.

All-Star Paul George had been erratic, but followed a 34-point game at Sacramento with 31 points, 11 rebounds and just one turnover against the Clippers.

They had been one of the NBA's better teams at defending the 3-point shot, but allowed the Clippers to hit 15-of-37 attempts and outscore them by 30 points behind the arc. Compare that to the earlier meeting in Los Angeles, when the Clippers hit just 6-of-27 3-pointers.

One could go on forever, pointing out the exclamation marks that have become question marks and the former concerns that are now lined in silver, but it all falls into one general category of concern.

"The inconsistency," George said. "We have yet to feel comfortable with the way these games are going. We preach one thing, then it comes to game-time and it's not being done."

Maybe Dr. Myles Turner has the solution. It's unfair to expect too much from a 19-year-old rookie, but at the moment he seems to possess the best bag of tricks for what ails this team. Coming off a four-game road trip in which he averaged 20.5 points on 65 percent shooting, he lit up the Clippers with 16 points in 10 1/2 minutes in the first half. He hit all seven shots, only two of them layups. By the end of the half, fans were high-fiving one another over his relentless marksmanship.

He missed all four attempts in the second half, admittedly forcing a couple, but his overall performance – 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting in 18 minutes – was more than acceptable. His minutes were reduced from the 30 he averaged on the road trip by the return of Ian Mahinmi, who returned from a sprained ankle to play 29 1/2 minutes, but coach Frank Vogel plans to do something about that.

"We're going to increase his load, for sure," Vogel said.

Vogel said he'll consider putting Turner in the starting lineup, which could potentially help solve some of the problems if he could find a niche alongside Ian Mahinmi on the frontline. He would improve their rebounding and their defense around the basket, and offer another perimeter scoring threat. He would have trouble guarding smaller players on the perimeter, but he might be able to return that favor on offense.

Turner might offer the best of both worlds: helping to spread the floor on offense to open up opportunities for George, George Hill and Monta Ellis and pairing with Mahinmi to help shut the door on defense.

"I think that's a lineup that can be effective for us, and one we'll look at, at some point," Vogel said.

Turner has been used off the bench so far because he's most comfortable playing with the fellow reserves he's practiced with all season. It's also easier for him to operate against another team's second unit than their starters. But the Pacers' ultimate starting unit could very well include him, and Vogel indicates he'll find out at some point.

Regardless, the small ball strategy that made so much news before the season is dying a slow death. Vogel went with one for only the first six minutes of the fourth quarter, and it didn't go well. The Pacers went from two down to nine down, and then got within seven on George's driving layup before Lavoy Allen re-entered the game to play alongside Mahinmi.

Turner would be happy to start, but isn't pressing the issue.

"I don't care," he said. "I'm playing ball at the end of the day. It's cool. Of course I'm going to work for a starting job, but I can't complain if I'm out there playing 20, 25, 30 minutes a game."

He didn't play that much on Tuesday, but it's likely he'll play more than 20 the rest of the season. Turner missed 22 games with a fractured left thumb, but used the time off to strengthen his lower body. He says he's now ready for the bigger workload of which Vogel speaks.

"I can handle as many as he throws at me, man," he said. "This is the job I signed up for."

Turner likely would take minutes, and perhaps a starting role, away from Allen, who managed just two points and five rebounds in 27 1/2 minutes against the Clippers. That seems a good trade-off, as Turner seemingly could match Allen's averages – 5.5 points and 5.4 rebounds – with closed eyes, but it's not that simple.

Allen has been part of all the Pacers' most successful lineups this season based on plus-minus rating. In fact, he had the best rating of all the Pacers on Tuesday, a +10, despite his meager statistics. Perhaps he contributes to chemistry, perhaps it's all a coincidence. Whatever, it's part of the confusion this team has generated. Confusion that has turned to frustration that George said has reached a peak.

"We've got a lot of things happening now that are frustrating," said C.J. Miles, the 3-point specialist who has hit just two of his last 30 3-point attempts. "When the frustration comes, that's a whole different animal. Guys try to make plays."

The most encouraging news for the Pacers is that their chemistry – off the court and in the locker room – appears to remain strong. Whatever problems they're having mixing and matching in games don't carry over to the real world.

"We really are growing," Turner said. "There's no problems in the locker room; we all really like each other. Off the floor we all hang out. It's not a matter of chemistry, it's a matter of putting the puzzle together."

The Pacers' best hope at the moment is that he's the missing piece.

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