INDIANA (CBSMiami) – As the Miami Heat appear to be close to hitting their playoff stride, the Heat’s top competition in the Eastern Conference appears to be collapsing under the pressure of trying to knock off the Heat.
The Indiana Pacers went from bad to worse on Sunday when the team scored just 23 points in the first half against the Atlanta Hawks. Indiana shot 20 percent in the first half and didn’t hit a three-pointer for the first 24 minutes.
Atlanta went on to win 117-88 and the loss moved the Pacers a full game behind the Heat in the race for the number one spot and home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference Finals. It also highlighted the problems the Pacers face moving forward.
Indiana went at the regular season hard from the opening tip of the first game of the year. At times it looked like the Pacers were going to run away with the Eastern Conference and possibly have the best record in the NBA.
But as February turned to March, the Pacers began to run out of gas. The team went from playing unselfishly to a style of basketball that’s unsuited for the skill-level of the players Indiana can put on the court at any given time.
Center Roy Hibbert questioned his teammates saying many were playing too selfishly and then on Saturday the 7’2 center was benched in the second half after playing nine minutes and posting a zero point, zero rebound and one turnover line.
Hibbert didn’t speak after the game and head coach Frank Vogel said that he was considering resting Hibbert anyway.
The Pacers, assuming the team rests some players and continues to lose, will not fall below the number two seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. That will match Indiana up with either the Hawks or the Charlotte Bobcats in the first round, either of which could pose a serious challenge to the Pacers if they keep playing the way they are right now.
All of that said, a little rest and a couple of victories could right the ship in a hurry and put Indiana back on a collision course with the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. But that’s a long way off as Indiana has a lot of work to do ahead of the playoffs.