Are the Indiana Pacers Still Legit Championship Contenders?

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Source: JMR Photography / Flickr

Source: JMR Photography / Flickr

While they endure their worst stretch of the season thus far, the Indiana Pacers sound as if they’ve lost their way. The prohibitive favorites at the start of the 2013-2014 NBA season, Indiana has lost its defensive mojo while its best player struggled in back-to-back blowouts in Charlotte (by 22 points) and Houston (by 26 points).  Houston’s thumping on March 7 prompted a team meeting, after which center Roy Hibbert said the team “hadn’t talked about” the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference “in a while.”

Meanwhile, David West was talking about the team getting its “mojo” back. Teams are averaging over 100 points per game against the Pacers in their last 10 contests heading into March 9. So the defensive dominance is gone while the pressure is mounting to hold off Miami’s push to take the top spot in the East. The Pacers consider Miami’s home-court advantage the secret to their downfall last season. Here’s why Indiana is going through such an ugly patch, and what it may mean for their NBA Finals run.

Target practice on the Pacers

Being the surprise “breakout” team in the NBA only works for so long. When the Pacers blasted out of the gate at the start of the season, all eyes were on a machine that appeared to reach to its full potential overnight. Several months later, there are no more sneak-attacks when the Pacers rolled into town. Teams are gunning for them the way they gun for Miami or Oklahoma City. In fact, Pacer coach Frank Vogel thinks it’s a key element of the team’s current slump.

“Our guys can talk about being the hunted but it’s a different thing to feel it,” Vogel told reporters after Indiana fell to the Rockets March 7. “These teams are coming at us with great force and we’re going to have to rise to the challenge.” The same can be said for the attention headed in the direction of early MVP favorite Paul George.

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