72 and 10. Earlier this year, a hot Indiana Pacers start had people wondering if they could threaten the Mount Olympus of regular season marks set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. Seventeen games into 2013-14, the Pacers were 16-1, on pace to eclipse 72 wins by five. They not only looked like Miami Heat dethroners, but a team capable of historic competiveness.
That seems like ages ago now.
The Pacers are still an elite team but whatever edge they seemed to have on the Heat earlier this year has turned around on them. With 21 games left to play, it seems like the Heat will end up being the better team down the stretch.
Both teams are tied in the loss column, sporting 15 L’s (which also puts them square with OKC in that regard). Indy has a three-game advantage when it comes to W’s but they’ve also lost four of their last 10. Meanwhile, LeBron and Co. are on a 8-2 surge. Since the beginning of the year, the Heat have also started to close the gap between the two, going 20-8 to the Pacers’ 21-10. What’s scary is that the Heat have done it largely without Wade and with a hibernating LeBron—until recently—and the blue-and-gold looked to be regressing since before the All-Star break.
It also adds to Miami’s confidence that the Pacers have picked up young pieces Evan Turner and Andrew Bynum along the way. The Heat, on the other hand, feel as though their preseason plan is turning out just as they had hoped.
Not helping matters is that George Hill and Lance Stephenson—two major cogs in the Indiana machine—are both hampered by injuries that aren’t going to get better as they try to hold on to their No. 1 seed. Hill, for his part, is dealing with a shoulder injury that comes from an incident that dates back to 2012. Never a good sign.
Breaking down stats only makes the hot seat the Pacers are currently resting on that much warmer.
Since the All-Star break, the Pacers are just a measly 1.8 in the plus-minus category. And since then, they trail the Heat in almost all indicators of success.
Post All-Star break, the Heat are outdoing them in points (108.6 to 100.8), steals (9.3 to 7.2), assists (21.4 to 19.7), field goal percentage (53.4 to 45.1—a major difference as the Heat are red-hot), and turnovers (12.1 to 13.9). Even more alarming for the Pacers nation is that where Indiana used to have a major advantage, a Defensive Rating of 93.6, they are now being outdone by the Heat. Since All-Star weekend, the Heat’s Defensive Rating has been a 100.7 while Indy’s registering a 102.4. With the Heat’s scorching offense in full gear, and an improving defense, Miami has a Net Rating of plus-18.0 since mid-February. Indiana, whose saving grace was a historic defense, is at a 1.8 Net Rating as its defense slips away. Not helping Indiana’s cause is that they’ve played a major string of sub-tier teams recently that have pushed them to the brink and who they should have bolstered their defensive rating against.
Instead, the Pacers look gassed and the Heat re-energized. Even more telling is that Indiana has had one of the league’s easiest schedules that continues to work in their favor. The Heat had the league’s easiest schedule to start the year but it has worked itself up an incline to around mid-pack. Along the way, the Heatles have only gotten better, and that can’t mean anything good for the once dominant Pacers.