Apr 1, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel coaches against the Houston Rockets in the fourth quarter at the Toyota Center. The Pacers defeated the Rockets 104-102 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE
33 wins and 21 losses. It's hard to believe. The Pacers' record this season is certainly indicative of their talent, but over the past few seasons a lack of cohesion, focus and consistent effort have always left fans feeling like they could have accomplished slightly more. Having watched them persevere and pull out games against Washington, New York and Houston in the past two weeks, I feel like that ability play closer to their potential every night is really what separates this team from those of recent memory.
However, there are still nights where the overall product on the floor can make you cringe. The Pacers have lost 9 games since the All-Star break, 6 by double-digits. For a team that seems on the cusp of something special, the frequency with which they still get blown out is somewhat unsettling. So what does those 33 wins and 21 losses really reveal about the team, and their chances in the playoffs?
The first concern is the drastic split in the record. The Pacers are now 8-13 against the likely playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. They are a more impressive 5-3 against the likely playoff teams in the Western Conference, but are still just 14-17 against teams with winning records for the season. Using the art of subtraction we're left with a 19-4 record against below 0.500 teams. Again, being able to consistently rack up actual wins against teams they should beat on paper is a big step forward. But their inability to consistently compete against the top flight teams reveals a lot about where the Pacers are in their development.
Up to this point, three lineups have done most of the heavy lifting for the Pacers this season:
|Collison - George - Granger - West - Hibbert||941.45||109.68||100.17||+9.51|
|Hill - Barbosa - Jones - Hansbrough - Hibbert||92.87||111.31||97.65||+13.66|
|Collison - Hill - Granger - West - Hibbert||89.23||117.47||101.20||+16.27|
These three lineups are among the Pacers' five most played on the season, and have been spectacularly successful. However, like the rest of the team, their performance has not been consistent against the tougher opponents.
|Collison - George - Granger - West - Hibbert||-13.13||+11.81||+3.33||-26.82||+9.29||+0.63||-7.04|
|Hill - Barbosa - Jones - Hansbrough - Hibbert||-||-47.27||-||-||-||-||-15.56|
|Collison - Hill - Granger - West - Hibbert||-40.00||-||+64.52||+52.50||+89.23||-||-25.00|
The starters' success against Miami is heartening on first glance, but even that is somewhat of a mirage. Miami's starting lineup has actually outscored the Pacers' starters by a point over 38 minutes. The Hill/Barbosa combo in the backcourt has been much effective than I anticipated but against New York and Miami they've really struggled. The starters with Hill in place of George have been very effective against some teams, but couldn't do anything with Chicago.
Ultimately matchups will play a big part in the Pacers' playoff success. Right now they have a fairly strong hold on the 3rd seed in the East, which could a mean a pairing with Orlando, Atlanta or Philadelphia. The Pacers are 3-6 against that trio, with two more games against Philadelphia before the playoffs start. In those 9 games, the Pacers have put up an ORtg. of 102.8, a DRtg. of 104.7, getting outscored 1.9 points per 100 possessions. That -1.9 Net Rating stretched across the season would put the Pacers somewhere between the Golden State Warriors and the Toronto Raptors.
I don't mean to be negative or diminish in any way what the Pacers have been able to accomplish. Like I said before, consistently winning the games they are supposed to win puts the team head and shoulders ahead of where they were 12 months ago. But when the playoffs roll around, the Pacers were likely be facing an uphill battle, regardless of where they are seeded.