They looked in peak form returning from a four-game sweep of a Western Conference road trip, and then promptly fell off the cliff, losing five of their final six games, trailing by at least 20 points in each.
So what, exactly, are we to make of these Pacers as they head into a first-round playoff series against the similarly unpredictable Atlanta Hawks? For this and many other answers, I turned to old friend and former Pacers standout Antonio Davis, now an NBA analyst for ESPN.
Instead of a Q&A, we’ll just call this one a Q&AD.
Q. The Pacers obviously did not play well down the stretch, but what is the relevance of late-season play to postseason performance?
AD. “To me it’s all about having momentum going into the playoffs. Everybody has to be executing on all cylinders because it not only becomes a physical game it becomes a highly mental game. Everybody’s going to be making adjustments from one game to the next so you have to be really focused in on all the little details that are going to happen during those pregame meetings, during shootarounds, the coaches are going to be trying to implement little changes to make sure you have an advantage going in. I’m a little bit surprised at the Pacers but I totally get it that they have struggled as of late. They’re going to have to figure out how to get some rest and get ready towards the end of the week.”
Q. If a team is indeed battling unusual fatigue issues, can the players get their legs back in a few days?
AD. “Definitely so. The one thing you have to throw in there is just the fact it’s the playoffs. The playoffs are like the beginning of a totally new season. The players know that, you get hyped for it, you understand it, so I think they’re going to be fine because they’re young enough to do it. It becomes a matter of settling in once you start talking about the mental nature, once you start talking about executing all the little things that have been put in. We’ll just have to see if they can overcome that.”
Q. Exiting last season’s playoffs, the team’s biggest focus for upgrade was the bench. Moves were made, but the bench is actually worse this season. How much does the second unit really matter in the playoffs, when rotations tend to tighten?
AD. “I always feel like the bench matters a ton. When you look at teams that have won, it really hasn’t been about their superstars, just looking at the overall picture. Everybody is going to trying to figure out how to stop your one, two and three scorers, which to me is going to be Paul George, David West and George Hill. Now, all those other guys are going to have to come in because they’re going to get some looks they haven’t gotten all year. Now you’re going to have to knock down shots, you’re going to have to take more shots than maybe you’ve taken all year, so the bench is definitely going to be critical to them having success throughout the playoffs especially when you’re talking about the teams they may have to play.”
Q. The Pacers have shown the ability to turn on a dime – in any direction. Given that, what do you expect from them?
AD. “You know what? That’s what makes the playoffs so great. That’s why fans want to see them, that’s why they have their TVs on. I’ll have mine on because you just never know what you’re going to get. The thing that we can agree on is we’re going to see a Pacers team that can show talent in a lot of different areas. Paul George can play a couple of different positions, is really dynamic. And I love the fact they have David West there and Hibbert starting to come along. Those two, to me, are definitely going to be the key in protecting the paint and drawing double-teams.”
Q. Given Miami’s dominance, is everybody else just playing for leftovers in the East?
AD. “Unless something happens that we can’t foresee right now, that’s what we’re looking for. And then you look at the fact the Knicks have to play the Celtics, which can be a very physical series. They’re going to have to go out and beat the Celtics. And then they’re going to have to play the Pacers or possibly the Bulls, which would be another physical series. To only have Miami sitting there having played Milwaukee and who? I think it’s going to be very difficult for somebody to get through and beat Miami right now.”