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A Season Defined by Field Goal Defense

There's an old saying that you should leave your work problems at work when you go home. The Pacers seem to have been letting this affect them on the floor. They aren't letting their offensive problems stay on the offensive end. It's coming to the other end and affecting their defensive performances, especially their strongest asset: field goal defense. And while the Cleveland Cavaliers limping into Conseco Fieldhouse on a nine game losing streak that’s been rife with listlessness and embarrassing performances make Indiana’s three game skid look downright enviable, the Pacers need to learn a thing or two from the Cavs on what to not let the season become. Rally the troops; it’s must win time!

Even though Indiana’s only positive outputs the past two weeks has been against Charlotte and Toronto, teams that sit numerous games below .500, it’s important that the Pacers, now in a rough spot of their own, continue to use these types of games to keep pushing forward. I think most of us believe the Pacers are in a tier above the bottom of the East. Indiana is 6-1 against the non playoff teams in the East. While the team is filled to the brim with inner turmoil regarding their struggles in recent weeks, it’s unbelievably important to remain focused on the games you are expected to win.

Indiana has struggled in three areas this season at large; turnovers, offensive rebounding (and more recently, rebounding as a whole), and free throw ratio. It’s no surprise these are three of the four factors, which are keys to a team winning a game. Without winning the four factors, it’s hard to win games. Shooting makes up 40% of the factor, which the Pacers have done well defensively, currently ranked third in FG defense (though that’s off from the top of the league they sat at recently).

But the Pacers are ranked among the worst offensively and defensively the rest of the way. Not one category is Indiana in the top 20 offensively; only in turnovers is the team not one of five worst. It’s not something that bodes well for the team moving forward if they hope to compete. With a team like the Miami Heat, their issues in depth can be covered up because they’re so talented at the top of the roster. The Pacers share some similarities with the Heat: they can’t overcome their lack of reliable depth without getting strong effort from their most reliable scorers.

In fact, the Pacers have been offensively challenged in their losses as of late, not being able to break 100 in any of them. Danny Granger is averaging just 15 points, Darren Collison 12 and Roy Hibbert at 10 in those six losses. The Pacers, a team that can get offense from the bench, but can’t afford to be over reliant on the likes of Mike Dunleavy or T.J. Ford, is getting roughly 37 points from their top three performers.

It’s possible, not unlikely that these three offensive threats are all in a slump at the wrong time together. But Jim O’Brien’s take certainly doesn’t inspire confidence. Jared Wade at 8 Points, 9 Seconds had these quotes from Jim about Hibbert and Collison particularly, saying of Hibbert, "I’m going to stick with Roy because we don’t have any options." And to Collison’s confusion on how the rotations are being run? "That’s why they call it the big league."

So far this year, the trio has averaged roughly 48 points on the season together, which aren’t enough to overcome the recent issues on their own. The foundations of this team’s success thus far have been on the defensive end of the floor. The Pacers have been and will likely remain an average offensive team. Their success will be on the defensive end, but without contributions offensively, the Pacers are suffering the same shortcomings Milwaukee and Charlotte have this season. Those eleven points (give or take) are key, especially in terms of wins and losses, good defense and not-so-good defense.

Despite the strong defensive effort this season, the Pacers have allowed over 45% on five of their last six losses. Hustle and smart play can turn the rest of the factors around, but even if they don’t improve, FG defense has and should remain a constant strength of the Pacers as the season progresses. It can be a great mask to the team’s struggles elsewhere. The Pacers are 10-5 when they shoot better than their opponent, and only one of those games, the season opener against the Spurs, can be seen as a game that the Pacers didn’t let slip away.

It goes back to taking care of the possessions you have. The Pacers have struggled offensively and have not been getting many cracks at second chance opportunities. Giving up offensive rebounds leads to easy baskets for the opposition. The Pacers offensive leaders may be struggling with consistency, but they aren’t looking comfortable on the floor. Collison’s effort against the Lakers last night was the least gag worthy performance by any of the three in quite some time, but it’s only a start.

O’Brien’s backhanded motivation of how bad you are isn’t the best kind of motivator for young players working their way into the "big league," but one side has to step up for this team to be successful. Great play on one end can lead to success on the other. Just remember, letting the Cavaliers get away with a win could take this team down a dark and dangerous path. I’d rather not have to see it come to that.