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Wizards 104, Pacers 90: Recent Struggles Spill Over Against Woebegone Wizards

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Pick your excuse. There are plenty of them. Dangling like apples from a tree unfit for consumption, complete with disturbing trends and an unpleasant scent that was traced back to the efforts of tonight’s Pacers squad, seeing themselves fittingly run out of the gym as the second half progressed against a Washington Wizards team that had entered the game losing 12 of its last 13 games. Not much of what the Pacers did tonight could be considered winning basketball. They lost when it came to hustle. They lost when it came to offense and defense. To put it kindly, they were dismantled.

And it wasn’t okay.

Indiana hasn’t been consistent at producing much in the past month; unless inconsistency is the product, so while the idea of the struggling Pacers falling in a road game by double digits hasn’t been much of a surprise, the team has been constant in producing wins against weaker opponents and responding to losses in a positive fashion. Neither case held true tonight. No, what held true tonight was a Pacers team completely outplayed by the worst team in the Eastern Conference when they needed a win.

Washington played close to the Pacers in the first half, coming up equal through 24 minutes. The Wizards did so despite shooting 30% for the half. They were aided by a large free throw advantage and a bountiful offensive rebounding edge. Essentially, the Pacers were leaving the door open by failing to lay the hammer down and box out. Indiana’s inability to box out not only led to offensive rebounds, but to a fair number of Washington’s trips to the foul line.

As the third quarter came to a close, Washington had begun to pull away. The Pacers continued their dreadful effort throughout the fourth, eventually falling under by 17 points halfway through the final quarter. Shortly after was when Indiana finally showed some resolve to climb into the game and possibly get this win back, clutching onto it with hopes of yanking it from Washington’s jaws. Indiana went on a 12-2 run to cut the lead to 8 points.

With the ball, the Pacers came up and Rashard Lewis stepped into a charge, which he turned into a three pointer of his own. As if the dagger didn’t kill Indiana, he would block Tyler Hansbrough’s shot on one end and assist on the other. That would do it. Paul George was inserted into the game for the first time in 16 contests; a white flag to an effort as unpleasant as you can imagine.

There’s no sugarcoating this one. In last night’s loss, Tom was able to paint the loss as a championship squad finished with toying around and lethally closing out their opponent. There is no such luxury tonight. This loss was bad. All it does is clarify the ongoing problem of Indiana’s struggles. The team hasn’t won a road game since their follow-up to the win in Los Angeles, they’ve gone 4-10 in December, but the team has been able to respond well, keeping weaker opponents in check. But in their second three game losing streak of the month, on their third straight double digit loss, the Pacers are at another crossroad.

For a season built on growth and the goal of having it culminate in a postseason berth, junctures will come up often to keep the perspective in check and prevent…well...this. But if you do happen to lose to the worst team in your conference by double digits, some evaluation comes into plain view. This can’t be how a team responds to the kind of play they’ve put up recently. It just can’t, not if you believe in your postseason aspirations.

Tonight’s loss was bad, make no bones about it, but it can still get a lot worse. It’s one thing to take a loss on the road to the Wizards; it will be high time for personnel evaluation should the team not return the favor to Washington when the two meet Friday. Hopefully it won’t come to that, but beyond the game on Friday is a pretty tough stretch of games. A win is a necessity to keep this team afloat.

After the jump, some individual observations:

  • Mike Dunleavy led the way with 20 points and was the team’s only reliable weapon throughout the night. When the Pacers needed a basket, it was Dunleavy that stepped up and made the big basket. Unfortunately, no one else on the team was able to help out for extended periods, but Dunleavy’s effort was as notable as one’s effort can be in this kind of loss.
  • Danny Granger spent the night trying to get his shot back, taking 14 shots in the first half. Unfortunately, Granger improved his shooting to 75% in the second half, but only took four shots. He quietly had himself 9 rebounds, but his struggling effort continued well past the point of him being a viable use for the team.
  • Speaking of lack of viable use, Roy Hibbert was unable to get anything going due to foul trouble that came early and came often. He was the victim of wrong place, wrong time in more than one case, but the duo of JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche caused numerous problems not only for Hibbert, but the entire Pacers front line all night long.
  • The McPsycho Experiment of Tyler Hansbrough and Josh McRoberts got extensive burn tonight as Foster sat the night out, and brought a nice dose of energy, but were still outplayed and outhustled by McGee and Blatche. It’s still a duo I’d like to see more often, as both guys can be an advantage around the basket. The two of them finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds.
  • Brandon Rush was quiet, but effective. Once again, it seemed the game went away from him, instead of through him. He attempted only five shots, but hit three of them, including two triples. For a team so devoid of offense, Rush’s contributions are very useful when considering he’s been the only player who has consistently found offensive success.
  • Running gags for Indiana continued tonight. The team allowed 21 offensive rebounds, 11 to Blatche and McGee; committed 17 turnovers to Washington's 8; and managed to keep the free throw differential close, but shot only 67% when they did get there.

The Pacers have until early Friday afternoon to figure something out to avoid handing the Wizards their first road win and ending the calendar year on the lowest note yet. It’s one thing to expect the win as has been the case in the past, now, well, it’s not that simple. This team has been short on effort and inspiration for as long as Granger and Hibbert have struggled. This team is in need of a boost, and to keep a postseason dream alive, a win on Friday will be in order to avoid extending their longest losing streak of the year into a season killing number.