Defensively, they're trying to get back to being themselves.
Offensively, they're trying to move forward to being like Golden State.
The Pacers don't exactly have an identity crisis, but they are trying to re-establish some things and establish others as they attempt to end their three-game losing streak when Miami comes to Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Friday.
Wednesday's 131-123 loss to Golden State, which followed road losses at Portland and Utah, resulted in two days of practice when coach Frank Vogel might ordinarily have given his team a day off.
"We lost three in a row," Vogel said following Thursday's practice. "We have to get to work."
Most of the work was put into defense. They've given up at least 122 points in each of the last three games, a surprising collapse from a team that had ranked as high as fourth in the NBA in points allowed not long ago. The Pacers tried a seldom-used strategy against the Warriors by switching on most screens. It didn't work, but they had far more issues beyond that.
Paul George, an all-defensive team selection two seasons ago, was as guilty as anyone, being primarily responsible for Klay Thompson scoring 39 points. He probably didn't need to be told, but the video replays made it painfully obvious.
"We were terrible in transition, terrible with the fastbreak, terrible rebounding, guarding our own man, cuts … we were struggling in the Portland and Utah games, but Golden State really exposed those flaws that we had defensively," George said. "It's kind of good sometimes to get your butt whupped and go back to the drawing board and clean things up."
Some things can be cleaned up strategically, others require an adjusted mindset and fresh legs. Vogel didn't begin practice until 2 PM on Thursday to allow his players more time to sleep, and will skip the normal game-day shootaround on Friday as well. The two practices, however, were highly focused.
"We emphasized some of the stuff that we used to do very good – and have been doing a poor job at," Ian Mahinmi said.
"That's what I (like to) do, so it felt really, really good to be working on it."
Although the Pacers usually score well, even in defeat, Golden State showed them how much room they have for improvement on offense. The Warriors dribble as if the ball is made of lead, and pass it as if it's radioactive.
Their 22-0 run on Wednesday, when they jumped from a 21-17 deficit to a 39-21 lead, was the epitome of what they are capable of doing to teams, and what the Pacers are hoping to become. During that entire first quarter stretch they never made more than two passes once the ball crossed midcourt and an initial pass was made, and never took more than two dribbles. Sometimes, all it took was a pass from the backcourt to get a basket.
The Pacers obviously were not good defensively during that run, and perhaps they can be forgiven for being dumbstruck by Golden State's clinic. But the irony is that the Pacers had taken their lead with passing and movement, and then got away from it. On one possession during the 22-0 run, George Hill dribbled six times in the halfcourt and then missed a jumper without passing. On another, Monta Ellis brought the ball upcourt, dribbled off a screen, and missed a jumper. Another time Rodney Stuckey was dribbling the ball on the right wing with nowhwere to go, and Steph Curry deflected the ball out of bounds off his leg. Another possession featured nine dribbles that resulted in Stuckey missing a jumper, and another six dribbles leading to George's missed shot.
The Warriors seem to always have five men in motion on offense. Most other teams have one or two moving and the others watching.
"They move the ball so well," Mahinmi said. "All five guys are on a string, and it's good to see it. It's like, 'Ahh, we're trying to get to that point.' When you reach that point and guys are making shots like they do, it's almost impossible to beat those guys.
"They're the champ and we're chasing them."
Along with the rest of the NBA.
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