When the NBA’s longest active road losing streak ends at your expense, that’s an obvious indication a team is in trouble.
The Indiana Pacers’ short-handed lineup fell behind by double digits for the fourth consecutive game Tuesday night and another rally came up short in a humbling 87-81 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Bucks (2-2) snapped a 16-game road skid dating back to last season at the expense of the turnover-plagued, cold-shooting Pacers (1-3), who have now lost three in a row.
Indiana rallied from 17 points down to a late three-point deficit, just as it did in Saturday’s loss at Atlanta, but another familiar problem resurfaced in the final minute as the Pacers couldn’t defend a point guard.
Against the Hawks, it was Jeff Teague, who hit the clutch shots late for a game-high 25 points. Against the Bucks, it was Brandon Knight, who sank a 21-foot jumper and added a foul shot in the final 22.9 seconds for a game-high 23 points.
Opposing starting point guards have averaged 21.7 points in the four games. It’s not like Pacers head coach Frank Vogel has any other options. Starting point guard Donald Sloan would ordinarily be a fourth option at the position, but George Hill and C.J. Watson have yet to play in the regular season due to injuries and Rodney Stuckey has played limited minutes due to a strained left foot.
“We just had a tough shooting night,” Vogel said. “I was more disappointed in our ability to take care of the basketball.
His team had 17 turnovers, which the Bucks converted into 28 points. The Pacers have committed 70 turnovers, an average of 17.5 per game.
The Pacers have also struggled to score. They’re shooting just 42.6 percent (134-of-314) and have tried to make up for that shooting percentage with 3-pointers; they’ve hit 34-of-102 (33.3 percent).
Indiana shot 39.7 percent overall against the Bucks. Starting shooting guard C.J. Miles, mired in a shooting slump, missed all eight of his attempts including five 3-point tries and failed to score a single point. Forward Luis Scola scored just two points, the second time in three games he’s had that total.
“It’s going to be up and down,” said center Roy Hibbert, who had 16 points and five blocked shots. “We’re showing that we can play in spurts. We need to play better, we know that. We haven’t put together a full game yet. It’s something we’ve got to learn from. We have the firepower to get back in the game. I just want to see everybody healthy.”
But that’s going to take time. Forward David West (high ankle sprain) won’t be back for at least another week. Watson has about the same timetable and Hill isn’t expected to return for at least two more weeks.
While losing to playoff teams, Atlanta and Memphis, wasn’t a surprise, falling at home against a rebuilding squad like Milwaukee is the most sobering result of this young season.
“We were just missing shots,” said reserve forward Lavoy Allen, who had a game-high 12 rebounds to go with eight points.
Reserve forward Chris Copeland and forward Solomon Hill tried to pick up the scoring slack for a second consecutive game. Copland had a team-high 19 points on 6-of-15 shooting with four 3-pointers. Hill scored 12 points, the best output for a second consecutive game in his two-year career. He had 10 at Atlanta.
But it wasn’t enough. Copeland’s last 3-pointer closed the deficit to 84-81 with 42.5 seconds remaining before Knight closed it out.
“Obviously we always want to win,” said backup center Ian Mahinmi, who had six points and three rebounds. “But sometimes you don’t.”
The Pacers travel to Washington Wednesday night, are at Boston Friday and then return home to face the Wizards Saturday.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.