Analysis: Are Pacers Going Anywhere?

Down the stretch they come, an uninspiring team in playoff race.

Seriously, of course, the Indiana Pacers are going to be defeat the NBA’s worst team, the Philadelphia 76ers.

But what about losing at home to Oklahoma City when Paul George scores 45 points, his best scoring effort ever at Bankers Life Fieldhouse?

Or how about the home game before that, when the Pacers lost to Toronto in overtime to fall to 1-7 in overtime games this season?

A cathartic and anticipated home victory over the 9-61 Sixers on Monday night won’t make people forget about the previous two games. And that’s how this season has been.

The Pacers are better than a year ago. They should be. George is putting up career numbers. They’re tough to beat when shooting guard Monta Ellis is playing well, too. And rookie Myles Turner has proven to be a keeper.

But a little bit better than a year ago isn’t exactly inspiring. And it doesn’t mean these guys are going to make the playoffs after missing out by virtue of a tiebreaker a year ago. The Pacers (36-33) entered Monday’s “gimme” against Philly in seventh place, just a half game ahead of Chicago and Detroit, separated by decimal points for eighth place.

Translation: No breathing room. Not now and probably not for the other dozen games to go.

It’s not like this team hasn’t been impressive at times. The Pacers’ best home win of the season came against San Antonio on March 7. The Spurs are 59-10. And Indiana also won at Oklahoma City on Feb. 19 against the Thunder (48-22).

So why hasn’t that happened more often? Why have the Pacers, at just above .500, become ho-hum?

For starters, it’s been too much George and not enough everyone else at times. That was the case Saturday night against the Thunder. PG was sizzling, scoring 19 points in the third quarter alone. Still, Indiana couldn’t pull it out against Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

When George scores 30 or more points this season, the Pacers are 9-12.

And then there’s the struggles in close games, particularly overtime. This team has repeatedly blown late leads. And George hasn’t been a three-time All-Star when the games are extended — he’s played all but 13 seconds in the eight overtimes and has shot 4-of-20 for just 10 points.

In Thursday’s 101-94 overtime loss to Toronto, Ellis missed a late foul shot that could have won it. The same guy, in a similar situation, misfired from the line at Miami earlier this season. A game that could have been won instead became an overtime loss.

Head coach Frank Vogel expressed confidence after the Raptors loss that these frustrating finishes would benefit his team down the road. He suggested the Pacers would turn these experiences into a playoff series victory.

Problem is, if the Pacers are unable to win down the stretch and fall to eighth place, the first-round opponent will be LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. If the Pacers are able to stay in seventh place, they get the Raptors again.

It’s fair to ask a simple question: Presuming the Pacers make the playoffs, are they going anywhere?

The answer, as this regular season’s end draws near, seems rather succinct: Probably not.

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.

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