Larry Bird, a Hall of Fame selection in 1998, knows greatness when he sees it.
And apparently he isn't seeing it from his Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers president said he's not happy with his team's approach, even if that same approach has powered Indiana to an Eastern Conference-leading 47-17 mark.
The talent is clearly in place for the Pacers to do something special, but that talent is being wasted by a lack of proper focus, Bird told Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star:
A lot of times, we don't take the fight to them (the opponent). A lot of times we sit back and wait and see how it goes. And that was the case even when we were winning a lot of games early in the season. We've got to be mentally prepared to really go after the teams we're playing again. We can't have the mindset it's just another game; it's a very important game. All of them are.
That wait-and-see mentality has sent the Pacers into a relative stumble of late. Indiana is just 14-10 over its last 24 games, after securing 33 victories in its first 40 contests.
The team's stonewall defense has sprung some uncharacteristic leaks (three of its last four opponents have scored in triple digits). The revamped second unit has managed just 26.1 points a night (third-fewest in the league), via HoopsStats.com. Superstar-in-training Paul George hasn't yet ditched his training wheels (17 points on .381/.241 shooting over his last six outings).
And Roy Hibbert, once an overwhelming favorite for the Defensive Player of the Year, has all but fallen out of that race.
"Indiana is allowing plenty of points in the paint recently, and it all stems from Hibbert's ineffectiveness guarding the rim," Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal wrote. "Those principles of verticality aren't working in his favor, and he's been abused both by physicality and finesse."
The toughest team in the business has started to look a bit fragile:
There are no panic alarms sounding in the Circle City, but flags of concern are flying at full-mast.
"People ask me if I'm mad at them,'' Bird said, via Kravitz. "I'm not mad. I'm disappointed."
Anger, frankly, would be easier to deal with for his players. Disappointment, though, cuts right at their core.
It's a sign of minimizing available opportunities. It's having the chance at success and letting it flounder away.
That bridge hasn't been crossed. Not yet, at least.
But clearly there are issues that need to be addressed.
The Pacers have the tools to ease Bird's concerns, but they're useless if they're not coupled with a strong mental approach. If Indiana can't right the ship, then its shot at securing the No. 1 seed could be at risk—along with any potential postseason prizes the Pacers had envisioned.
There is, of course, no benefit to peaking in the middle of March. But the Pacers have to hope their best basketball isn't buried in their rearview mirror.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of NBA.com.
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