Just when it appeared as if the Indiana Pacers were in position to secure an Eastern Conference playoff spot, they’ve suddenly fallen apart.
The Pacers lost their fifth consecutive game in a 123-111 setback administered by the Brooklyn Nets Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
It’s not just the losing streak that is alarming for the Pacers (30-39). They’ve been unable to defend of late. In three of the last four losses, they’ve allowed an average of 114.3 points per game, about 20 points above their season average.
The Nets (29-39) shot 60 percent (46-of-75), by far the best this season for a Pacers opponent. The 123 points allowed were also the most against Indiana.
Three of the five losses in the streak have come at home. The Pacers have already endured lengthy losing streaks of eight, seven and six games. To avoid hitting another six-game skid, they must somehow regroup and knock off the Houston Rockets (46-23) Monday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The only good news is a playoff spot is still attainable. The Pacers are just one-half game behind the Boston Celtics (30-38) for the eighth and final playoff spot, although the Celtics own the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Charlotte Hornets (29-38) are percentage points behind the Pacers and the Nets just a half-game behind Indiana.
Bottom line, the Pacers need to win in their remaining 13 games, six of those at home.
After falling behind early, another familiar trend this season, Indiana rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit to trail by one entering the fourth quarter. But the Nets kept scorching the nets and the Pacers couldn’t keep up.
The Nets outscored their hosts 35-24 in the fourth quarter to win going away.
Seven Brooklyn players scored in double digits — and five were bench players including Bojan Bogdanovich with 21 points. Starting center Brook Lopez had a game-high 26.
The Pacers have struggled to score before during this topsy turvy season and they’ve overcome the problem at times with balance. They had balance this night, but not enough.
Six Pacers scored in double digits, led by point guard George Hill with 18, forward Solomon Hill and reserve forward Luis Scola with 17 and center Roy Hibbert with 16. Guard C.J. Miles scored 14 and forward David West 13 as all five starters scored in double digits.
Indiana hit 50 percent (45-of-90) of its shots. So it wasn’t the offense as much as the lack of defense that led to his downfall.
Super sub Rodney Stuckey suffered a calf injury and did not play the second half after missing all three of his shots in the opening half.
The Nets’ bench outscored the Pacers’ 58-33.
Another Pacers’ problem has been free throws. Their opponents typically get more and make more. The Nets hit 25-of-31 to the Pacers’ 13-of-18.
If the Pacers can’t handle the Rockets, they’re looking at four of the next five games on the road.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.