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Pacers playoffs: What are the Pacers playing for this year?

Depending on the game, it is hard to tell just what the Pacers are playing this season. The varied results depending on the player and the situation indicate they aren't always on the same page.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

A playoff series is no time for an NBA team to looking for a logical lineup or questioning one another about heart and effort, but that's where we are with the Pacers.

Frank Vogel wouldn't tip his hand on Friday other than to say he is considering lineup changes for Game 4. Although, he did show his cards to start the second half of Game 3 by starting Myles Turner for Lavoy Allen, which is the only logical lineup maneuver at this point.

The Pacers find themselves desperate for a win in Game 4 which would suddenly shift all the momentum they let go after winning Game 1. We know going for the kill is not in this team's DNA and heading into what may be the Pacers' last stand, the series is playing out like a microcosm of the season.

Great start and then head-scratching regression. While they won 45 games (one more than I figured), they left so many W's on the table the solid number of wins was frustrating. Time and again, this team comes up obtuse when presented a chance to seize greater success.

Now the Pacers are playing uphill against a better, 56-win Toronto team that appears to have their stout defense back in order with the full return of DeMarre Carroll. It will take all of the guts the Pacers have to offer in a full team effort to keep this series going.

But it also leaves me wondering just what this team is playing for because it certainly isn't the organization, coach or even each other.

And please spare me the thought that this wouldn't be happening if David West was still on the team. It has been happening, although to a lesser degree, for the past few years. Exhaling after some success and adulation, brings out the worst. West's departure, however, did push the Pacers into a transition year, which is often lost in the reaction to post-season losses.

Larry Bird had a few holes to fill and tried heading in a different direction last summer and the results filled the gaps but don't show much promise for the future. Thanks to missing on a few past draft picks, Bird had to fill the rotation with talent to run the floor and turned to veteran players who have missed out on the playoffs in past seasons. At first blush, these type of players are naturally hungry for post-season action. But on the flip side, they are also comfortable without playing into May.

Rodney Stuckey, Monta Ellis, Jordan Hill and even C.J. Miles and Tyl Lawson can talk about their desire to shine in the playoffs but they haven't spilled much blood and guts, either late in the regular season nor in the first three games to draw that shine. The checks cash all the same and they are well versed in overcoming that season-ending loss.

There's a reason storylines fluctuate between Paul George needs to take over and PG needs to lean on his teammates more. That's because it all falls on his shoulders and when he's good, he's great and when he's normal, he needs help. PG has been through heated post-season battles and knows his team isn't approaching the challenge with the appropriate effort and intensity.

"It's real frustrating," George said. "This is playoff basketball and that's what it's all about. We're not holding up on that end. We're treating this like it's a regular season game. We're failing to be the physical team, and I think there's one guy in particular that is doing an amazing and that's Valanciunas. We got to match his physicality and we're not doing that."

From Larry Bird to Frank Vogel to every player on the roster, they all have a hand in the blame. But this is a players league and there is no changing the players in the post-season, so the lack of effort and desire to attack falls back on the players.

Again, this isn't a problem that just arose in the three games against the Raptors. The Pacers have been in quasi-playoff mode for the past six weeks and all of this similar peaks and valleys have been glaring. The effort, or often lack thereof, indicates the players often tune out Vogel. Another bad loss at home will provide further evidence and likely cost Vogel his job.

That's not right, but the players aren't responding as expected. At times over the past two months it appears George Hill has been trying to play himself out of town. His body language in losses is rarely one of a teammate trying like hell to pull hie weight.

GHill often invokes his experience with Coach Pop and even mentioned how Coach Skiles had his team ready to play when Orlando embarrassed the Pacers late in the season. Hard to hear those comments as anything but veiled shots at his current coach, even if Hill's playoff record under Vogel is far better than his playoff record under Pop in San Antonio.

For a glimmer of hope, teams are dynamic and can move past madness with a solid effort. For the Pacers, that would mean getting all 12 active players on the same page, moving in the same direction with the same focus on doing what it takes to win.

So, again, what are the Pacers playing for at this point? Game 4 should provide the answer.