In case you hadn't heard, it certainly seems to be raining on the Indiana Pacers right about now. The once-proud Pacers, who entered the All-Star break with an East-leading record of 40-12 and a historically elite defense, have played .500 ball since the mid-season exhibition, dipped from all-time-great to merely-seventh-best-in-the-league in terms of points allowed per possession, and produced a putrid, punchless offense that's been worse than those fielded by every NBA team beside the Philadelphia 76ers.
They've slipped in the playoff picture to one game behind the top-seeded Miami Heat after a pair of weekend losses, including a 19-point drubbing by the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks that saw head coach Frank Vogel yank all his starters, keep All-Star center Roy Hibbert securely fastened to the bench after letting the other four get back on the floor, and continue to fail to find the right formula to get Indy back on track, stoking questions about his job security. The mood is dire in Indianapolis these days.
Amid all the "ship be sinkin'" talk, Vogel elected to cancel Indy's Monday practice, giving his reeling squad a chance to continue searching for the "blue collar gold swagger" they seem to have misplaced right around the middle of February. As it turns out, they're not the only ones looking for something that's gone missing. From the Lost and Found section of Indianapolis' Craigslist community:
Quoth the totally legit posting:
The talent for short-lived NBA superstar Paul George has gone missing. We're desperate to reunite the talent back with the body before the NBA playoffs start in a few weeks. We've checked everywhere. [...] No luck so far.
His jump shot has been missing since December! This is the longest it's ever been gone. [...] If you have any information about the whereabouts of his talent, please report back to Indiana Pacers President Larry Bird. Bird can be reached at any time of the day at The Rathskeller bar on 401 E. Michigan St.
***REWARD: When Indiana inevitably loses to Miami in the conference finals, we'll find a way to supply you with LeBron's sweaty head band.
On one hand, this is fairly harsh. (Especially the parts we've replaced with an ellipsis, which you'll have to click through to check out if you'd like.) On the other, yes, George's jumper has come back to Earth since a scorching start to the season that had people talking him up as a No. 3 MVP candidate behind obvious front-runners Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
Through the first 16 games of the season — from the Oct. 29 campaign opener through the end of November — George was making 51.1 percent of his midrange attempts and 40.4 percent of his 3-pointers, according to NBA.com's stat tool. George had never shown that level of marksmanship before — he shot just over 36 percent from both areas last season, less than 33 percent from midrange in 2011-12, and just 30 percent from long distance as a rookie — so he seemed a good bet to tail off, and he's done just that, regressing to a 37.3 percent mark on midrange Js and a 35.2 percent mark from deep since Dec. 1.
He's still put up numbers, averaging right around 21 points, seven rebounds, 3 1/2 assists and two steals per game, and it's not like he can't contribute if he's not scoring the ball; as his coach famously said, George's defensive impact is significant enough that he'd "still be a top-15 player in the game" even if he never scored a point. But the jumper just hasn't been as true, which has been one of many factors preventing the Pacers' offense from being able to improve beyond middling ... and, of late, being able to even get past plain ol' awful.
That said, George is far from the only Pacer whose effectiveness has declined somewhat since mid-February. There are issues all over the floor, from Hibbert's disappearing act on the boards to Lance Stephenson's disappearing act in transition rampaging to just about everybody's disappearing act when it comes time to make the extra pass or hang in a second longer on a screen. It seems like everybody's taken a step back, to the point where we scarcely recognize these Pacers anymore. Isn't that right, ESPN?
OK, maybe ESPN going 0 for 5 on matching the Pacers player with his headshot wasn't necessarily meta-commentary. Maybe it was just a subtle shout-out to the shooting performance that got Hibbert an early exit on Sunday. Yeah, that's the ticket.
The Pacers' next chance to remind everyone who they are comes Wednesday night against the worst-in-the-NBA Milwaukee Bucks. We might not get to see whether George has found his "lost" talent just yet, as he and David West have reportedly gone to Vogel looking for a late-season breather, but it'd sure be nice to see the Pacers go about the business of looking like a playoff team, if only to break up the monotony of all the "what's wrong with the Pacers?" stories heading into the postseason.
Hat-tip on the Craiglist goof to Beyond the Buzzer.
- - - - - - -