Struggling to close out games can become a habit. The inability to finish down the stretch weighs heavily on a team, and Indiana is no exception.
VICTOR IS BACK…SORT OF
Since Victor Oladipo’s highly anticipated return to the Pacers’ rotation, they’ve won just two of their last seven. Everyone expected an adjustment period, but the embarrassing home loss to New York followed by two devastating blown leads against Toronto and Brooklyn doesn’t exactly establish a positive rhythm. Perhaps we’ll look back at those games as the difference between hosting a playoff series or hitting the road for a Game 1. Whatever the scenario, Indiana is searching for answers.
The positives? With an uptick in minutes, Oladipo has recorded his four highest scoring outputs of the season in the last four contests, shooting at least 35% in each of them. The eye test confirms that his explosiveness is still there.
Downsides? The team looks lost at times. Oladipo is forcing his jump shot a bit. Without the consistent threat of a rim attack, opponents can afford to sag off on Victor and clamp down the perimeter.
So what now? Well, I’d like to think the All-Star break came at a good time, but maybe it will only prolong the growing pains. Tonight’s game against the Knicks will be pivotal in charting a course for the last half of the regular season. The Pacers couldn’t have hand picked a better first opponent after the long layoff.
NEW YORK STATE OF MIND
Worst shooting percentage in the NBA. Second-worst offensive efficiency in the league. One of eight teams to allow more than 110 points per 100 defensive possessions. Introducing the 2019-2020 New York Knicks! From top to bottom, the Knickerbockers are bad. How do I know they’re bad? Only two Knicks average more than 10 points a game and their leading scorer, rebounder, and assist man is Julius Randle. Yeah…
Sabonis needs to assert himself in the paint from the opening tip, much like he did in his 25-point performance against these guys three weeks ago. Get Randle in foul trouble and it’s over. The spread sits at -5.5 for the visiting Pacers, a number that Nate McMillan’s squad should have no problems covering if they play aggressive and determined. Messing around with the Knicks is not what you want to do two days before heading north of the border to face the pesky Raptors.
Indiana turned the ball over 38 times in their home-and-home series versus Toronto in early February. I really don’t care about anything else, that high turnover rate isn’t going to get the job done against quality competition. To put that number in perspective, Atlanta, the NBA’s leader in giveaways, coughs the ball up 16.1 times per game.
Valuing the basketball and building chemistry with Oladipo back in the lineup are the short-term keys for a Pacers team looking to get back on track. Who knows? Fix those problems and maybe the last three minutes of games won’t be so bad after all.
“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” – John Wooden
Title photo by Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images | Odds provided by BetRivers.com